ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — As the only national park in Maine celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, park officials are busy trying to manage the predicted boost in visitation.
John Kelly, the park’s spokesman, said Monday that visitation to Acadia so far in 2016 seems to be about one-fifth higher than it was at this point last year. Both the estimated ridership for the fare-free Island Explorer bus system and the sales of weekly passes to the national park appear to have increases in that 20 percent ballpark range, he said.
According to estimates posted online by the National Park Service, there were about 800,000 visits to Acadia from January through June of this year, which is about 150,000 more visits — or 23 percent more — than the 650,000 or so visits that the park had for the same timeframe in 2015.
The higher level of visitation, if it continues throughout the remainder of the year, could result in the park’s busiest year since the end of the 1980s, when it changed the formula it uses to estimate the number of visits that it gets each year. The park had an estimated 2.81 million visits in 2015, which is its highest annual estimated total since 1995 when it had 2.84 million visits.
Kelly said Monday park officials presume the 100th anniversary of Acadia and of the National Park Service as a whole are factors in the higher levels of visitation the park has experienced so far this year. As the park and its partners have been planning the many events centered around the park’s centennial, they have been predicting Acadia would be more crowded this year than usual.
“We have a very good chance of pushing over 3 million visits,” Kevin Schneider, Acadia’s superintendent, told the park’s citizen advisory commission in June.
The last time the park estimated it had more than 3 million visits in any year was in 1989 when using different formula, it calculated that the park had 5.4 million visits.
Centennial or not, nothing has as big an impact on visitation to Maine’s only national park than the weather.
The past two weekends — one sunny and warm, the other rainy and cool — bear this out.
The July 4th holiday weekend was very busy and resulted in some congestion in the park at the top of Cadillac Mountain and along Ocean Drive, which passes by Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, according to park officials. The wet weather this past weekend, however, meant there was plenty of room to park and relatively few people at Acadia’s main attractions.
Kelly said the return of sunshine on Monday also meant a return of visitors.
“Ocean Drive again today is packed full,” he said.
On Saturday, July 2, there were so many vehicles along Ocean Drive that traffic was reduced to a crawl for part of the afternoon, Kelly said. The following day, the summit road to the top of Cadillac was closed twice to incoming traffic — once in mid-afternoon and again around sundown that evening — in order to relieve some of the parking pressure at the peak.
The park has been looking into the issue of summertime crowding for the past several years and currently is working on a multi-year traffic management plan to ease some of the congestion in the park. Kelly said park officials plan to meet with each other on Tuesday, July 12, to discuss preventative measures they might take this summer to help avoid crowding in the park at certain times and at certain places.
“We know we have not seen the peak yet,” Kelly said of the park’s busiest months, which tend to be in July, August and September.
In the meantime, he added, the park is encouraging visitors to expect crowds at high-traffic areas such as the Cadillac summit, Ocean Drive, and the Jordan Pond House, and to plan accordingly.
For example, he said, there are plenty of locations in Acadia with great views of the horizon, not just Cadillac Mountain.
“You can enjoy the sunrise and sunset from other places as well,” Kelly said.
Aside from avoiding high-traffic areas at busy times, he said, visitors staying elsewhere on Mount Desert Island can use the Island Explorer or, if meeting up in groups, can carpool into the park, he said.