On the heels of a record-breaking summer of tourists, Bar Harbor earned $2.2 million in parking fee revenue this summer, nearly twice as much as it made the year before.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the town’s tourism season in both 2020 and in 2021. Last year, the pandemic stifled tourism in the early part of the summer but allowed the number of visitors to the town’s scenic seaside village, which serves as the primary gateway community to Acadia National Park, to slowly build into a strong fall and winter.
But in 2021, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park were busy even before the snow melted as tourists, due to the lack of travel last year and a desire to be outside and away from others, flooded into Acadia months earlier than usual. Monthly visitation totals to Acadia for each of the first six months of this year ranged from 20 percent higher to 230 percent higher over the corresponding months from either 2020 or 2019, before the pandemic struck.
The National Park Service has yet to release Acadia’s visitation estimates for the month of October, which typically is one of the park’s busiest months, but Acadia is believed already to have broken its annual visitation record, exceeding the 3.5 million visits it had in 2017. Last year, Acadia had only 2.67 million estimated visits, its lowest annual figure since 2014.
Bar Harbor first implemented its paid parking system in 2019, when it took in $1.65 million in revenue from parking fees, permits, and fines. The town, which charges people to park downtown on public streets or in public parking lots from May 1 through Oct. 30 each year, took in only $1.18 million in 2020.
State law restricts how municipalities can use revenue they earn from paid parking on public property. Towns can only use the money for the maintenance and operation of a paid parking system, to construct and maintain public ways, or for public parking areas.
Among the multiple ways that Bar Harbor plans to spend the money are on parking improvements at the town-owned ferry terminal property, lighting upgrades along Route 3, new bike racks and other local improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor’s town manager, said Tuesday that the town’s parking task force “will meet soon” and might discuss possible changes to the parking system in 2022 that it could recommend to the town council.