A park service entrance station staffer at directs traffic at the intersection of Park Loop and Schooner Head roads on Aug. 2, 2020. Credit: Bill Trotter | BDN

Monthly visits to Acadia National Park more than doubled from June to July but still lagged well behind visit totals from 2019, a decline directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visits to Acadia were down by nearly 35 percent in July of this year from July last year, according to statistics compiled by the National Park Service — a sharp decrease, but still less severe than the nearly 60 percent drop for the month of June. The National Park Service estimates it had 493,000 recreational visits last month, more than 260,000 fewer than the 756,000 visits it had in July 2019.

Acadia had just over 200,000 visits this past June, less than half of the 490,000 visits it had in June 2019.

Acadia National Park is a major draw for tourists who visit Mount Desert Island and coastal Maine each summer, with visitors numbering in the millions each year and setting records in recent years before this summer.

In Bar Harbor, the primary town that tourists frequent when visiting Acadia, the pandemic has affected local businesses in different ways.

Weekly vacation rental inquiries have surged while hotel reservations have been down — some by as much as 60 percent — which suggests that tourists want to maintain physical distance from each other this summer to minimize potential exposure to the coronavirus. Both hotel operators and weekly rental agents say that they have been getting many more cancellations this summer than they are used to, despite the high demand for weekly rentals.

Some local restaurant owners have reported being busy in July, with some saying they have had some of their busiest days ever, though the exact reason for this is not clear.

Some restaurants with more outdoor seating or takeout options might be getting more customers because other local restaurants do not have outdoor seating or attract less takeout business. But by focusing more on takeout and less on seating customers at a limited number of tables, some restaurants simply may be getting higher numbers of patrons than they normally get.

Weekend crowds in the park frequently have been noticeably bigger than on weekdays, which supports observations from tourism business owners. They say they too, generally, have been busier on weekends — perhaps because many visitors are coming on spur-of-the-moment getaways, rather than as a result of long-term vacation plans. Recent visitation estimates by the week or day were unavailable from the park service on Friday.

Some of the congestion in the park this year is due to the suspension of the seasonal Island Explorer bus system, which serves all of MDI and was established in 1999 with the specific goal of reducing the number of private vehicles that crowd into the park each summer. Without having the bus to ride, nearly all visitors to the park have been driving their own vehicles into Acadia this year.

One other difference this year is that no park visitors have come from cruise ships.

In recent years, Bar Harbor has hosted more than 100 cruise ship visits each year, from late April through early November, and hundreds of thousands of cruise ship passengers. All local cruise ship visits have been canceled for 2020, however, and the industry as a whole has been shut down temporarily over concerns about how the disease has been shown to spread within the ships’ tight quarters.

Overall, so far in 2020 Acadia National Park has had an estimated 908,000 visits, compared to 1.58 million for the first seven months of 2019, for a 42 percent decline.

For all of 2019, the park had 3.43 million visits, its third-highest annual total. The park set records for annual visits in 2016, 2017, and again in 2018, when it had 3.53 million visits.

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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....