ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The number of visitors to the park increased in 2007 from the previous year, but the annual count still lags behind historical highs set in the mid-1990s, according to park officials.

Park officials released the figures this week as they met with the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission for the first time in two years. The commission’s original 20-year charter expired in 2006 and was not renewed by Congress until earlier this year.

Charlie Jacobi, recreation specialist for the park, told the commission on Monday that Acadia had 2.2 million visitors last year, the highest total since 2004, when it had slightly more than that amount. Acadia’s busiest summer since 1990 was in 1995, when 2.8 million people visited the park.

“The general trend has been downward since 1995,” Jacobi told the commission.

He added, however, that the park does not count the number of people who enter the park on the seasonal Island Explorer bus system because there is no established method for determining how many Island Explorer riders are park visitors. He said recent figures indicate that the free, propane-powered bus system carries about 350,000 passengers each summer.

“How many [park visitors] that is, who knows?” he said of the Island Explorer statistic.

The commission also heard of efforts by park rangers to curb illegal activities in the park. Ranger Kevin Cochary said that though rangers occasionally find marijuana plants and unsanctioned campsites in the park, poaching of vegetation and other resources are more common offenses.

Rangers have found illegal all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trails in the park, particularly on the west side of Mount Desert Island, and have found people removing trees, ferns and rocks, and even dumping waste in Acadia, Cochary said.

“Commonly, people are dumping their lawn clippings [across shared boundaries] into the park,” he said. “[But] not everyone is intentionally damaging the park. Sometimes they don’t realize they’re in the park.”

To help inform the public and abutting landowners, the park has been erecting markers to indicate where its boundary lies, Cochary said. Sixty-five miles of the park’s boundary has been so marked, he said, with 22 more miles to go.

The commission also heard about collaborative education and research programs at the Schoodic Education and Research Center at Schoodic Point, on the eastern side of Frenchman Bay, and about park officials’ concerns about the possible development of 3,200 acres of privately owned property abutting the park’s Schoodic section. The Modena family of Italy, which owns the land, has announced plans for an “ecoresort” development project but has yet to submit a proposal for regulatory approval.

“This could literally change the character of the entire peninsula over there if it is developed intensively,” Acadia Superintendent Sheridan Steele said.

Steele also told the commission that the National Park Service still is investigating an alleged assault by a park ranger of a Jordan Pond House employee who was hiking with friends on Day Mountain during the early morning hours of Aug. 18. The investigation likely won’t be completed for another few weeks, he said.

After the meeting, commission and park officials said they are glad Congress reauthorized the commission until 2026. The reauthorization is retroactive to 2006, meaning commission members at that time can resume their roles with fewer procedural hurdles than they would have faced if Congress had decided to review the entire commission-creation process again.

“It means a valuable opportunity for public input has been restored,” commission chairman Steven Katona of Bar Harbor said of the congressional approval.

Len Bobinchock, Acadia’s deputy superintendent, said the commission has proved to be the most effective way for the park to communicate directly with residents. The commission meetings help the park publicize park issues and get feedback from people who are most directly affected by activity in the park, he said,

“Not having [the commission] is a disadvantage to the park and to the public,” Bobinchock said.

The next commission meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, at park headquarters on Route 233.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....