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 near Bar Harbor, July 31, 2018. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Acadia National Park set a visitation record last year for the third consecutive year, and the total number of park visits increased for the fifth consecutive year, according to recently released National Park Service statistics.

The estimated number of visits to Acadia National Park in 2018 was 3.53 million, edging a record from the prior year by 28,000.

Annual visits to Acadia first passed 3 million in 2016, the 100th anniversary for both the park service and Acadia National Park, when the number of visits reached 3.3 million. The number of visits reached nearly 3.51 million in 2017. Acadia was the seventh most visited national park that year.

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To calculate the number of recreational visits to Acadia, park officials estimate the number of times any person enters the park, as opposed to estimating the number of different visitors, so one person could account for one visit or 20 visits, depending on how often that person sets foot in Acadia.

The park estimates the number of recreational visitors each month by using traffic counting equipment at Sand Beach and Schoodic Point, and by using passenger counts provided by bus companies that bring people into Acadia. The park assumes that one quarter of the annual ridership for the free Island Explorer bus system, which increased from approximately 580,000 passengers in 2017 to 623,000 last year, are recreational visitors to Acadia.

The park is closely interwoven with the communities that surround it and has hundreds of frequently used entry points, making an exact count on the number of visitors virtually impossible.

Acadia does have higher visitation estimates from the 1980s, when it used a different methodology for estimating annual visitation. Officials with the park have said they believe the current methodology is more accurate.

The growing number of visitors has led park officials to draft a traffic management plan that they hope will decrease congestion at certain places in the park, such as the summit of Cadillac Mountain, that can get crowded at certain times of the day during the busy summer and fall tourist season.

[Read more Acadia National Park News here]

Christie Anastasia, spokeswoman for the park, said last week that the park expects to release the final version of the traffic management plan sometime this spring. The plan is expected to include a required car reservation system for some of the park’s more popular destinations. Traffic management measures that are included in the final plan are not expected to go into effect until sometime in 2020, she has said.

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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....