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

Acadia National Park could see as many as 1 million fewer visits this year due to the coronavirus pandemic even as the park has had some of its most congested days this year.

The park had received about 850,000 fewer visits as of the end of September than it had over the first nine months of 2019, during which it had nearly 2.95 million visits. If visitation this year continues to run behind by roughly 30 percent, Acadia would end up with about 2.4 million total visits for 2020, down from more than 3.4 million it had in total last year.

The drop this year in people visiting Acadia National Park, a significant number of whom are out-of-state tourists, has major implications for the state’s tourism industry, especially in eastern Maine where the park is Maine’s primary tourist attraction. In 2018, the state’s tourism industry generated more than $6 billion in revenues, according to the Maine Office of Tourism.

Acadia had nearly 500,000 visits in September, roughly 100,000 fewer than it had the same month in 2019. That represents a 17 percent decline. The 680,000 visits Acadia had in August were 10 percent lower than they were in August 2019.

For the first three months of this year, prior to and in the first few weeks of the pandemic arriving in Maine, Acadia’s visitation estimates were more than 40 percent higher than they were for January to March of 2019, though the park’s visit numbers in winter tend be a fraction of its summer numbers.

Visitation to Acadia has been down since April and was down by more than half in May and June. The busiest months for the park typically are July — which saw a 35 percent decline this year — and August, with September usually the third busiest month.

The park at times has seemed especially crowded this summer, particularly on weekends, according to Acadia officials. Despite the lower numbers of people visiting the park, automotive congestion has been significant at times, largely because the Island Explorer bus system is not operating due to COVID-19 concerns, which means more are driving themselves to destinations in the park than when the bus system is operating.

Even as total visits were down in September, the numbers of vehicles passing through the Sand Beach fee station last month were as high or nearly as high as they have ever been, said park spokesperson Christie Anastasia.

“It feels more congested because there are more private vehicles,” Anastasia 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....