Category Archives: News

News about Acadia National Park.

Transit and visitor center aimed at cutting traffic at Acadia

TRENTON – US Sen. Angus King and the state transportation chief helped celebrate the start of construction of a new $32 million welcome center and transit hub, saying it could dramatically reduce traffic at Acadia National Park and transform the way people visit.

Maine US Sen. Angus King at celebration for Acadia Gateway Center.

US Sen. Angus King, independent from Maine and chair of the Senate subcommittee on National Parks, speaks at an event to celebrate the start of construction of the Acadia Gateway Center. On King’s right is Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation Inc., and on his left, Fred Ehrlenbach, first selectman for the town of Trenton.

The Acadia Gateway Center, located off Route 3 in Trenton, is planned as a new regional tourism hub with 250 parking spaces and likely an express bus service into the national park. The center is aimed at getting more day trippers and commuters into the park’s fare-free Island Explorer bus service, thereby reducing congestion on  Route 3 near Mount Desert Island and cutting traffic at Acadia National Park, the No. 5 most visited US national park in 2022.

The Acadia Gateway Center, scheduled to open in May 2025, overcame many hurdles during 20 years of planning and debate and it remains unclear how many tourists and commuters will choose to leave behind their cars and hop on a bus at the center. The project’s ultimate success could hinge on efforts to hire more scarce bus drivers to provide the express service  and to boost affordable housing for drivers and other seasonal workers, people at the event said. Affordable housing is currently in such sort supply that 10 Island Explorer drivers lived out of their cars last year, according to the president of the Friends of Acadia.

King, chair of the Senate subcommittee on National Parks, said the Acadia Gateway Center is a landmark project that can serve as a model for other national parks. People can park at the Gateway Center, get on a bus and enjoy Acadia without worrying about fighting traffic, pollution or the time it takes to find parking, said King, a Maine independent.

“The problem isn’t so much people in national parks,” said King at the event, attended by local, state and federal leaders. “It’s vehicles.”

Acadia Gateway Center

An aerial view of the planned Acadia Gateway Center, now under construction and set to open in May 2025. (Rendering provided by Maine Department of Transportation)

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Vandalism in Acadia taints popular mountains and trails

 Update 2/24/23: The National Parks Traveler picked up this story and put a national spotlight on the “paint-can-carrying hiker” who has been putting bright red blazes on rock cairns and trees in the park.

Update 2/24/23: Spring Trail added to list of damaged trails.

Winter is not even off-season for vandalism in Acadia.

Bright red paint defacing about two miles along the Spring Trail, the Penobscot Mountain Trail on the south ridge of the mountain and the Deer Brook Trail has been reported to the National Park Service, which is now investigating.

Historic-style cairn defaced with red paint on the south ridge of Penobscot Mountain.

An illegal red blaze was painted on the mantle stone of this historic-style cairn on the Penobscot Mountain Trail. (Photo by Kevin Young)

The illegal red rectangular blazes frequently were painted right next to the park’s official sky-blue blazes on the historic hiking trails, according to photos posted on Facebook by a hiker and provided to Friends of Acadia and the park in early February. At least three dozen historic-style cairns, trees and bedrock locations were painted with the red blazes, according to interviews with two hikers who took photos.

This is the latest example of a growing problem in Acadia and other national parks, with vandals defacing the landscape with paint, rock stacking and even human and pet waste. Now, the vandalism in Acadia has happened in the dead of winter, when the hiking trails are often little used and icy.

The illegal painting off Penobscot, the fifth highest mountain in Acadia, follows a rise in the number of citations issued by the National Park Service for vandalism in Acadia over the past two years, compared to the three prior years, according to park statistics.

Acadia National Park cairn marred by red paint.

This red paint damage on a cairn on the Penobscot Mountain Trail is especially galling because it occurred right next to a National Park Service sign that asks people to leave cairns as they find them. Rangers are investigating the illegal activity. (Photo by Kevin Young)

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Bargain hunters buying up half-price Acadia annual pass

December is usually a slow time of year in Acadia National Park. But with the National Park Service proposing a 27 percent increase in the Acadia annual pass next year, the park holiday tradition of selling the annual entrance pass for about half price is bringing out the bargain hunters.

acadia national park

Get the Acadia annual pass for about half price in December, while they last, before the proposed 27 percent price increase in 2023. (NPS image)

The Acadia annual pass is currently on sale for $28 during the month of December. People can buy multiple discounted annual passes and many are buying them for holiday gifts, according to people selling the passes at three local chambers of commerce and four town offices. Also, there is a limited number available of annual passes at the reduced price and it’s possible they could sell out, at least at several locations, in the wake of the the NPS’s Nov. 29 announcement of its proposal to hike entrance fees at Acadia in 2023, people said.

“They are selling like hot cakes,” said Brianna Mitchell, deputy town clerk in Gouldsboro, which offers the discounted passes, and which includes Acadia’s Bar Island within its borders. “I am trying to tell people, if they call, to try and grab one sooner rather than later.”

The yearly sale of the pass is always popular, but Mitchell agreed the proposed fee increase for 2023 may be spurring some sales of the discounted pass this year.

The park’s Sand Beach Entrance Station is the primary location for sales of the discounted Acadia annual pass. The entrance station is open year-round and is planned to operate seven days a week in the winter, depending on staffing, with core hours 9 am to 3 pm during December, said John T. Kelly, management assistant in the superintendent’s office at Acadia National Park. “There is a limit, but I can’t predict whether they will sell out,” Kelly said of the discounted passes.

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Maine seeks bids for Acadia National Park welcome center

UPDATE on 2/8/2023: Nickerson O’Day of Brewer today submitted the low bid of $27,653,784.59 to construct the Acadia Gateway welcome center and transit hub in Trenton and will begin working with the state to secure the contract for the long-awaited project.

Like most MaineDOT projects, the state is aiming to award the contract to the low bidder, according to William Pulver, chief operating officer and deputy chief engineer for MaineDOT.

“The next step in our typical low bid process is an internal evaluation of the bids received and a review of any required bid submittals from the low bidder,” Pulver wrote. “Following that review, a recommendation is made to the Commissioner’s office.”

Under the state bid process, it should take about 6 weeks to award the contract if all is in order. 

The Maine Department of Transportation said it expects to break ground in 2023 on a new state-of-the-art, $32 million welcome center and transit hub for Acadia National Park and the region, marking a big step forward in a strategy to get more visitors to use the park’s fare-free shuttle and reduce traffic congestion.

Acadia Gateway Center

This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal and welcome center, with a current state estimate of $32 million for the project. (NPS image)

The MaineDOT this week officially advertised for bids for a contractor to construct the national park welcome center and intermodal facility off Route 3 in Trenton about three miles north of the bridge to Mount Desert Island. The bids were scheduled to be publicly opened and read on Jan. 4 in Augusta but the bid opening was recently changed to Jan. 18, and then delayed again until Jan. 25, and postponed again to Feb. 8, according to the MaineDOT web site. The winner must agree to complete work by May 3, 2025 for the project, estimated by the department to cost $32.076 million.

Paul Merrill, director of communications for the MaineDOT,  said the department expects groundbreaking for the Acadia Gateway welcome center and intermodal facility to happen in the first half of 2023. The MaineDOT would own the project, which would be funded mostly by federal transit aid, in addition to $4 million from the National Park Service, state money and $1 million from the Friends of Acadia, a partner in planning since 2004.

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Staff deficits hit Acadia visitor services, shut Cadillac at 10pm

Citing a shortage of seasonal staff this year, the park has closed Cadillac Mountain overnight to vehicles and stopped staffing the popular Village Green Information Center in Bar Harbor, among other moves to deal with a lack of workers for Acadia visitor services.

milky way from cadillac

It’s going to be harder to see the stars from Cadillac with the closing of the summit road after 10pm through late October, while the vehicle reservation system is in effect. (NPS photo by Sardius S. Stalker)

Even the Star Party at Cadillac, one of the more in-demand events of the Acadia Night Sky Festival in September, has been cancelled “due to limited capacity and staffing constraints,” according to the festival website.

But perhaps the biggest impact to Acadia visitor services is the elimination of park staff at the Village Green Information Center, ending a longtime presence of rangers in downtown Bar Harbor during the busy season. According to former ranger Maureen Robbins Fournier, rangers sold park entrance and commercial passes, swore in hundreds of Junior Rangers every year, and helped people plan visits and Acadia hiking, among other services, with lines sometimes out the doors during cruise ship season.

“We are not staffing it this year due to limited staff availability,” Sean Bonnage, public affairs assistant for Acadia, told us in an email.  “We don’t have plans to staff it in the future, although ideally we would like to.”

The Village Green Information Center is owned by the town of Bar Harbor and is leased as an operations center to Downeast Transportation, the nonprofit that operates the Island Explorer on Mount Desert Island. It is still being used as an operations center this year, with the Island Explorer operating a full schedule for the first time since 2019, and is open to the public, only with no rangers present for Acadia visitor services. It was first staffed by rangers 20 years ago.

Village Green Information Center in Bar Harbor

Limited staff at Acadia prompted the National Park Service to decide against staffing the Village Green Information Center this summer. Hundreds of Junior Rangers used to be sworn in by park rangers at this location every year.

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Best place for sunset on Cadillac is now…the West Lot?

Acadia National Park visitors in search of sunset on Cadillac Mountain know from social media and the Internet that the best place to watch is from the Blue Hill Overlook. But late last year, workers removed the sign for the overlook and put up one that says “West Lot” instead.

cadillac mountain sunset

Crowds start to gather for the best place to see the sunset on Cadillac Mountain, whether it’s called the West Lot, Blue Hill Overlook or Sunset Point.

And before the spot was named for its view west to Blue Hill in the late 1980s, visitors knew to flock to what was then called Sunset Point, as the official park map labeled it. But the crowds got so bad, “to alleviate evening traffic congestion, the National Park Service changed the name in 1988 from Sunset Point to Blue Hill Overlook,” according to the new and definitive book, Place Names of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Islands, Maine, by Henry A. Raup.

As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Whether it’s called the West Lot, Blue Hill Overlook or Sunset Point, the view of the sunset on Cadillac from this very spot is, indeed, just as sweet. And visitors will eventually find it.

The renaming of Blue Hill Overlook to the West Lot is just the latest chapter in the long history of changing place names in Acadia and surrounding areas.  Even the park itself went through several name changes, from the Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, to Lafayette National Park in 1919 and finally Acadia National Park in 1929.

sunset on cadillac

No matter what you call it, this is the sweetest place to watch the sunset on Cadillac, even if it will get crowded during the peak season with visitors setting up lawn chairs, picnic blankets and cameras on tripods.

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More access for physically disabled persons urged at Acadia

Michael Kelley has been visiting Acadia National Park for more than 25 years, but he’s never seen Thunder Hole up close or been on Sand Beach. That’s because he uses a wheelchair, and an accessible ramp is either too far away or non-existent for these major attractions.

Michael Kelley at Thunder Hole

Michael Kelley, shown in his wheelchair, used an accessible ramp to reach an upper platform over Thunder Hole, but the view was limited. There is no ramp for the disabled to reach the main platform next to Thunder Hole. (Photo courtesy of Carol Kelley)

On a recent visit to Thunder Hole, he went down the ramp to a top platform, but he couldn’t see the waves crashing inside the sea crevice, like people who can walk to the lower viewing platform can. And the lack of a ramp down a long stretch of cement stairs to Sand Beach means he has only experienced it via videos taken by his mother.

“It is ironic that he has a lifetime park pass, yet can’t access the best of the park,” said Carol Kelley of Waldo, whose 31-year-old son has a rare chromosomal disorder, Triplication of Chromosome 17. People with permanent disabilities can get a free National Parks pass, but Michael felt like a second-class citizen at Thunder Hole, his mother said.

While Michael Kelley and others with disabilities can use wheelchairs on carriage roads at Acadia and otherwise enjoy the park, a recent 280-page report on access at Acadia National Park says the park fails to provide equal opportunities for physically disabled persons to visit popular sites and much of the rest of the park.

The report, by the National Center on Accessibility (NCA) at Indiana University, recommends some dramatic improvements, including a ramp down to Sand Beach, new accessible platforms at a scenic lot just short of the summit of Cadillac Mountain, at Bass Harbor Head Light and at Thunder Hole, and a redesign and rebuilding of the two National Park Service campgrounds on Mount Desert Island.

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Work on historic hiking paths in Acadia steps up for high season

On Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, trails crew supervisor Christian Barter knelt on the ground on a sunny morning in April while he built a new retaining wall, aiming to protect the trail from climate and the relentless pounding of hikers.

Christian Barter of Acadia Trail Crew

Much of the work on Acadia hiking trails is still done by hand, as demonstrated by Christian Barter in building a new stone side wall along Ocean Path.

“You have to think about every bit of edge along that trail and how you can make it permanent, so that it will hold the surface in between the edges,” said Barter, who started on the Acadia trails crew in 1989 and has been a supervisor for about 23 years. “It is just a matter of going through every spot.”

Work on the historic hiking paths and trails in Acadia is stepping up as the numbers of people on Ocean Path and other trails is set to climb in the months ahead. With Acadia attracting more than 4 million visits in 2021, keeping the trails in shape is an on-going process.

The National Park Service opened the full 27-mile Park Loop Road at Acadia on Friday, including the summit road to Cadillac Mountain, which will require a vehicle reservation starting May 25. The park’s 45-mile carriage road system, which was closed for mud season, reopened to pedestrians on April 12, but not yet to bicyclists or horses.

The opening of the loop road and carriage road system increases access to trailheads and historic hiking paths in Acadia and heralds the start of another tourist season. It’s also the beginning of a busy time for the Acadia trails crew, charged with maintaining and rehabilitating the 155 miles of hiking trails in the first national park east of the Mississippi.

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Acadia hiking trails added to the national historic register

Acadia National Park hiking trails received a special honor on Friday when they were added to the National Register of Historic Places, closing an effort that park officials launched more than 20 years ago, and establishing the largest hiking trail system on the federal list of places worth preserving.

Otter Creek, Mount Desert

Frederic Church of the Hudson River School painted this scene of Cadillac and Dorr mountains around 1850, an historically significant vista still visible today behind Acadia’s Fabbri Memorial. (Image from National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Placed on the register as “The Mount Desert Island Hiking Trail System, ” the Acadia National Park network consists of 109 maintained trails and paths covering about 117 miles.  The Acadia hiking trails system also includes 18 memorial plaques or markers along the trails and 12 iconic viewpoints from the trails, according to the system’s sweeping nomination report for the historic register.

“Acadia National Park now has the largest system of trails to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” Kevin Schneider, Superintendent of Acadia National Park, said. “This recognition is a testament to not only the historic significance of these trails, but also the incredible dedication of the National Park Service staff, partners and volunteers who continue to preserve them.”

The system of trails is historically significant partly because of its strong connections to the Hudson River School of artists in the mid-1800s and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Gary Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia trails crew who worked on the nomination, confirmed the approval on the national register of historic places, calling it “very exciting” and  worthy of “fireworks and champagne.”

“We had a lot of people pushing for it,” Stellpflug said. “I feel incredibly elated. It’s been a long time coming. This trail system deserves that recognition and protection.”

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Acadia National Park welcome center may finally be built

After 20 years of planning, construction of a new $24 million Acadia National Park welcome center and transit hub could be completed in 2025, providing visitors a major new way to take the fare-free shuttle to the park and help reduce crowds and traffic problems.

Acadia Gateway Center

This design shows Island Explorer buses picking up visitors from the planned Acadia Gateway Center’s intermodal transportation and welcome center. (NPS image)

The Acadia Gateway Center, which is a project of the Maine Department of Transportation, will serve as an intermodal transportation hub and offer a 11,000 square-foot welcome center. The center will boast high beamed ceilings, huge windows and a new busway for the park’s Island Explorer shuttle and commercial tour buses right outside the doors, a National Park Service official said.

The national park welcome center will be “an attraction in itself,” said John Kelly, management assistant at Acadia National Park, and comes when Acadia drew more than 4 million visits in 2021 and parking was tighter than ever inside the park. The new welcome center, when built, would operate along with the existing Hulls Cove Visitor Center.

In a new boost for the project, the Maine Department of Transportation, in a construction advertising schedule for 2022, says it will seek bids in December to construct the Acadia Gateway intermodal and welcome center, earmarking $26.2 million for the project.

Kelly released new slides that display the expansive interior of the national park welcome center with cathedral ceilings, as well as a new overall site plan that shows the busway and parking. Two hundred and fifty new parking spaces with 32 spaces for electric vehicles behind the center are also planned, Kelly said.

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First winter Acadia National Park entrance fees top $500,000

Acadia National Park is collecting entrance fees during the winter for the first time this year, raising more than $500,000 as of January to help retain staff and fund plowing and other winter services.

national park fees

A visit to Acadia in winter now means having to pay a park entrance fee (NPS image)

In a change that started Nov. 1, Acadia National Park entrance fees are now required year-round and the park is staffing the Sand Beach Entrance Station seven days a week for the first time in the winter. Previously, the park required an entrance pass only between May 1 and October 31 and there was no charge between Nov. 1 and April 30.

Winter visits nearly doubled over the past decade, helping spur Acadia to start charging the fees.

“We did not collect entrance fees in the winter in the past, but it has gone very, very smoothly,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said during an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission this month. “We have not gotten a lot of pushback from park visitors, which is great. People have embraced entrance fees I think and understand the importance of it.”

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Gary Stellpflug, steward of Acadia hiking trails, to retire

UPDATE on 2/15/2022: Reaction from Jack Russell was added.

UPDATE on 2/18/2022: Gary Stellpflug thanks people for their comments on his planned retirement.

Gary J. Stellpflug, longtime foreman of the Acadia National Park Trails Crew, said he is planning to retire from the National Park Service this year, after leading a sweeping rehabilitation of the historic Acadia hiking trails during his tenure.

acadia hiking trails

Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, inspects the damage done to a bridge on the Hadlock Brook Trail by an “exceptional” storm on June 9, 2021, attributed by the National Park Service to climate change. (Photo courtesy of Gary Stellpflug)

“I’ve been here long enough,” Stellpflug said in an exclusive interview. “It’s time for somebody else to step in.”

He said there is no exact date for his retirement, but it will be before the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1. He said he wants to help in a transition to a new Acadia hiking trails foreman and is working with Keith Johnston, chief of maintenance, on a succession plan.

Stellpflug, who has been foreman of the Acadia trails crew for more than 35 years, helped launch a major effort to restore and maintain Acadia hiking trails after Acadia became the first national park in the country with an endowment for a trail system.

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Falcon chicks boost resurgence of raptor at Acadia National Park

Update 7/14/2021: Two chicks fledged at each of three nests at Acadia National Park in 2021, or six in total, Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, told us in an email. “It has been a good season,” Kark wrote to us. “Glad all three sites made it through some extreme weather events. Two major rainstorms and an extreme heat wave. It is also nice to see fledglings back at the Precipice since they had failed in 2020.”

Thirty years after the first peregrine falcon chicks hatched during Acadia National Park reintroduction efforts, the raptor continues an amazing recovery, with month-old chicks spotted in several nests this year, and new park statistics underscoring their comeback.

Patrick Kark, ornithology ranger at Acadia, recently released a chart on the total number of peregrine falcon chicks fledged at Acadia since 1991 in four cliff-top sites including 78 at the Precipice; 31 at Jordan Cliffs; 27 at Valley Cove; and 24 at Beech Cliff.

peregrine falcon Precipice Trail

Perched atop a pink granite cliff on the Precipice of Champlain Mountain, a peregrine falcon blends in with the gray rockface, as seen during the Acadia Birding Festival earlier this month. The falcon’s yellow beak and talons contrast with the dark gray of the falcon’s back.

“Through having all these nesting sites in park, as of 2020, 160 peregrine falcon fledglings have flown from Acadia, which is a huge number, huge success story,” Kark said during a webinar held last month by the Western Maine chapter of Maine Audubon.

Peregrine falcon chicks are set to fledge at three nests this year, Kark wrote in an email last week. There are no confirmed numbers yet, but peregrine falcon chicks are known to be on the Precipice, at Jordan Cliffs above Jordan Pond and at the Valley Cove Cliffs above Somes Sound, Kark wrote. Chicks appear to be around 30 days old, he wrote.

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Acadia airs fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac Mountain

UPDATE: The NPS Regional Director approved the total $6 fee for each vehicle, and vehicle reservations went on sale beginning Thursday, April 1. Vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 26 through Oct. 19. 

Acadia National Park leaders are defending a proposed $6 fee for each car on Cadillac Mountain, saying all the money raised would  go back into operating a new system for vehicle reservations to improve parking on the peak.

Traffic jam on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Traffic jams like this one on Cadillac Mountain are a major reason that Acadia National Park is starting a vehicle reservation system. (NPS photo)

In January, the National Park Service announced that it wants to charge $6 for each vehicle to go up and park on Cadillac, the highest peak on the US Atlantic coast. The proposed fee is three times the $2 charge in a trial run of the reservation system in October and comes as the park superintendent said he expects annual visits to increase this year to at or near regular levels after dropping by 22 percent during the pandemic in 2020.

At an online meeting of the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, Acadia officials aired the fee and also discussed plans for dramatic new expansions and improvements including the Acadia Gateway Center set to open in 2024, a new Hulls Cove Visitor Center, a reconstruction or renovation of the Jordan Pond House and 21 new buses for the Island Explorer shuttle over the next five years.

Public comments on the proposed fee for vehicle reservations on Cadillac can be made through Feb. 11 at an National Park Service online site.

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Traffic, visits skyrocket in October at Acadia National Park

Note: November also marked a new high in visits for Acadia National Park. Statistics, reported by the NPS after publication of this story, show 76,251 visits in November, up 66 percent from 2019. The total for 2020 through November is 2.65 million, down 23 percent from 2019.

Visits skyrocketed in October at Acadia National Park, clogging the park with a record amount of traffic fueled by an unusually younger crowd with time to spend and an apparent hunger for the outdoors during the pandemic.

Thunder Hole at Acadia National Park

About 4,000 vehicle reservations were sold for Sunday, Oct. 11 at Acadia National Park including those for people who crowded together on the viewing platform at Thunder Hole.

While visits to the entire park rose by 10 percent in October, visits to the Mount Desert Island section of the park , jumped to 450,675, up by an eye-popping 27 percent from the same month in 2019, despite the loss of cruise ship passengers from Bar Harbor, according to the National Park Service. Sixty thousand vehicles entered the park at Sand Beach in October at Acadia, the highest-ever count for the month in records going back to 1990, an NPS report said.

The surge of people in October at Acadia means the park is on pace to log more than 2.6 million visits for 2020, or about 800,000 less than 2019 with 3.43 million visits, and about 900,000 less than the 3.53 million that set a visitation record in 2018. Travel restrictions in Maine helped reduce visits to Acadia early in the season, and the total for the year is set to drop to its lowest in about five years, but with the reduction still much less than initially expected.

Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said October typically attracts a lot of newlyweds and retirees to the park. This year during the pandemic, the newlyweds still came, but there were fewer retirees, he added.

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