A crowd of early-risers gather near the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park on July 31, 2018 to watch the sunrise. According to the National Park Service, tourism at Acadia last year contributed more than half a billion dollars to the state economy. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

The record number of visits at Acadia National Park in 2018 directly contributed more than $387 million and overall generated more than $520 million to the state economy, according to a National Park Service report.

Acadia had 3.53 million visits in 2018, the highest number ever estimated for the park in its 102-year history. For each of those visits, a person visiting the national park spent on average roughly $110 in Maine, the federal agency said.

When factoring in the estimated 5,600 jobs supported by those visits — which range from hotel workers to guides and park staff — tourism at Acadia last year contributed $520 million to the state economy, NPS officials said.

Those estimates are much higher than corresponding estimates from 2017, when the park service used different methodology for calculating how much money Acadia visitors spent in the state. Economic impact estimates for 2017 suggested that visitors to Acadia directly spent $284 million in Maine and overall generated $339 million to the state economy, including wages paid to 4,160 people whose jobs catered to tourists at the park.

The new methodology included newly collected survey data specific to Acadia, whereas prior estimation methods used generalized visitor spending data from other parks in the National Park System, park service officials said. Of the 36 percent increase last year in visitor spending at Acadia, less than 5 percent can be attributed to inflation and increased visitation.

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“This new report shows that national park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy — returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service — and a big factor in our state’s economy as well, a result we can all support,” said Gay Vietzke, director of the park service’s northeast region.

The level of government funding for national parks, including Acadia, has generated criticism in recent years from advocacy groups who say that most parks do not have enough money to make needed repairs and upgrades to their facilities. Last year, Acadia officials said they had a backlog of maintenance projects with a total estimated price tag of nearly $60 million. The park gets only roughly $8 million a year from Congress in operating funds.

Last year Acadia raised its entrance fees — though not as much as had been proposed by then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke — in order to help generate additional funding for the park’s maintenance needs.

The report did not estimate the economic impact of other National Park System sites in Maine, which include Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and Saint Croix Island International Historic Site.

Nationwide, visitors to national parks last year directly spent $20.2 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park, the park service said. This spending is estimated to have supported 329,000 jobs nationally, of which 268,000 are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $40.1 billion, they added.

Related: Hiking the Bubbles in Acadia National Park

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....