UPDATED 5/7/2018: Story adds a statement from Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
Acadia National Park last year pumped $284 million in jobs and business activities into the regional economy, according to an annual report on the economic benefits of national parks.
Acadia National Park supported 4,163 full and part-time jobs in 2017, down slightly from 4,195 jobs in 2016, as businesses last year struggled to find help amid a strong economy and tighter policies on hiring of foreign workers by the Trump administration.
“Acadia National Park’s extraordinary beauty and recreational opportunities attracted a record number of visitors in 2017 making it the seventh most-visited national park in the country,” said Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider. “We value our relationship with the neighboring communities and appreciate the services, experiences and amenities they provide to park visitors.”
The total economic output for Acadia in 2017 was $338.8 million, an increase from $333 million in 2016.
In 2017, the year after celebrating its centennial, Acadia contributed $284.5 million in visitor spending, up 4 percent from 2016 and up 41 percent from $201 million in 2012, according to the report.
Unveiled by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, the report comes as Acadia is proposing a vehicle reservation system for Cadillac Mountain summit, Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond that would relieve traffic congestion during peak season caused by a growing number of visitors and impose a small vehicle reservation fee partly to help raise money for increased service for the fare-free Island Explorer shuttle. The report on the economic effects of national parks also follows a decision by the National Park Service to impose modest entrance fee increases starting June 1 at Acadia and 16 other of the most popular national parks, after an initial proposal to more than double fees caused an uproar.
Interior Secretary Zinke touts economic benefits of national parks
“This report illustrates the incredible value of our national parks and further shows the value in President Trump’s plan to rebuild park infrastructure,” Zinke said in a statement accompanying the April 25 release of the nationwide report.
The 2017 National Park Visitor Spending Effects report includes 382 of the 417 National Park units in the country. Overall, the system received 331 million recreation visits, almost the same as 2016, with visitors spending $18.2 billion in gateway regions in 2017, the report said.
Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation, said in a statement that Acadia and other sites “are priceless not only for their intrinsic natural beauty and historical significance,” but also for the economic benefits of national parks.
The report focuses on how Acadia and other national park units boost the economics of “gateway communities,” or those within 60 miles of a park.
The report breaks down how eight sectors directly affect the regional economy near Acadia National Park. The top six for jobs included hotels with a 23.1 percent share and 962 jobs; restaurants, 19.8 percent and 826 jobs; recreation industry, 9.9 percent and 412 jobs; retail, 10.2 percent and 426 jobs; transportation, 5.8 and 242 jobs; and camping, 4.4 percent and 186 jobs.
The report on the economic benefits of national parks did not include the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument near Baxter State Park, but did look at Saint Croix Island International Historic Site in Maine. In 2017, 11,900 visitors spent an estimated $679,000 in local gateway communities while visiting Saint Croix Island, supporting 9 jobs, down from 12 in 2016, the report said.
Separate report to tackle traffic from increased visitation causing stir
Because of increased visitation to Acadia, Acadia National Park caused a stir among local residents by releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement that proposes some sweeping changes to manage growing visitation including establishing timed vehicle reservations for a modest fee at Cadillac Summit Road, the Ocean Drive Corridor and the massive north parking lot for Jordan Pond from about mid-May to mid-October. The park did not offer a specific price for the fee, but said it would be modest and likely less than $10 per vehicle.
The fee would cover the costs to operate the reservation system, monitor traffic conditions, and support alternative transportation options such as the free Island Explorer service, the report said. An entrance pass, annual or weekly, would be required for a reservation.
Acadia last year attracted 3.509 million recreation visitors, up 40 percent from 2.504 million in 2010, according to the National Park Service.
The park is accepting public comment on the draft transportation plan for 60 days or until June 26. The park is offering other ways to receive feedback including open houses from 6:30 to 8:30 pm May 22 at the Mount Desert Island High School and on May 23 at the Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor.
“While we have identified a preferred alternative as a focal point to encourage public comments, it is not set in stone,” said Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider in a press release.
The park’s proposal for the reservation system is outlined in its “preferred alternative,” which is among four alternative approaches in the draft environmental impact statement. The National Park Service says it is only leaning toward selecting its preferred alternative at the time of the draft release and that public input will be important before a final decision is made.