A crowd of early-risers gather near the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to be among the first in the continental United States to see the sunrise, Tuesday, July 31, 2018, near Bar Harbor, Maine. The national park is on pace so far in 2018 to break its record annual visitation total of 3.5 million visits that it set just last year. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Visits to Maine’s only national park so far this year are on pace to exceed the total from 2017, when Acadia had an estimated record of 3.5 million visits, according to park officials.

The number of visits — how many times someone enters the park, even if one person might do it many times during the year — is estimated to have been slightly ahead for July and August this summer than it was for the same two months in 2017. July and August, the heart of Maine’s summer tourist season, are consistently the two busiest months for Acadia National Park.

Acadia estimated it had nearly 760,000 visits in July, which is 15,000 more visits than it had for the same month in 2017, representing a 2 percent increase. For August, Acadia counted 767,219 visits, which is nearly 5,000 visits or 0.6 percent more than it was for the same month last year.

Overall, the park has had a 2.3 percent uptick in the number of visits so far this year over what it had for the first eight months of 2017, according to park spokeswoman Christie Anastasia. The total visitation estimate between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31 is just shy of 2.4 million visits, while the total for the same dates a year ago was 2.34 million.

September and October also will have to be busy for the park if 2018’s visit total is going to exceed the record figure set last year. Fall has become an increasingly busy season for the park and for tourism businesses on Mount Desert Island as tour bus companies and cruise ships have increased their traffic to Bar Harbor, in part because of the fall foliage season that splashes bright colors across the park’s rugged landscape and coastline.

Last fall was especially busy for Acadia as unusually warm and dry weather in Maine helped encourage people to get outside. For the first time ever, September and October each generated more than half a million visits to Acadia in 2017.

A notable exception to the gradual increase in fall visits to Acadia occurred in 2013, when a 16-day federal government shutdown in October resulted in a steep drop off in park visitation. Tourists and cruise ships still came to Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island, but the park’s official estimate for visits that month was just shy of 95,000 visits.

This past summer, President Donald Trump raised the specter of forcing another federal government shutdown this fall, after the federal fiscal year comes to a close Sept. 30, over funding for his proposed wall along the Mexican border, a project he had promised during the 2016 presidential election as a way to reduce illegal immigration. According to a recent report by Politico, however, Trump more recently has backed off the threat, saying he doesn’t want to harm the re-election prospects of his fellow Republicans in the midterm elections coming up in November.

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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....