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Visitors to Acadia National Park next week are likely to find more locked gates than mountaintop ocean views if the federal government shuts down this weekend.
It would be the first time in 10 years that a federal budget dispute closed the park during Maine’s tourist season. But even if the park shuts down at midnight Saturday, people hoping to get out and about on Mount Desert Island may not have to change plans.
Local businesses have gotten some questions from customers about the potential shutdown, but most of them seem interested in finding out about other activities outside the park, Everal Eaton, director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday. He has not heard of people planning to visit the area who have canceled their plans.
“There’s a ton of activities all around town,” he said, adding that local hotels, museums, restaurants and guide services will continue operating.
There will still be economic effects on MDI businesses, judging by past shutdowns. Acadia officials estimated in 2014 that a 16-day shutdown the previous fall resulted in $16 million in lost revenue for local businesses, though they admitted that estimate assumed no tourists visited Bar Harbor while the park was closed.
On Tuesday, National Park Service officials in Maine and Washington D.C., declined to comment on what another federal government shutdown might mean for Acadia.
In prior shutdowns, gates at Acadia have been locked to keep out vehicle traffic, buildings have been closed and all services have been put on hold, save for a few rangers who are kept on duty in the event of an emergency. The park’s official stance has been that no one should enter the park during a shutdown because it could take a while for urgent help to arrive if needed.
The most recent closure of the park — aside from usual seasonal closures in winter — didn’t result from a dispute over the federal budget. It was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which for a good portion of 2020 brought much of the world to a standstill. Traffic to Acadia was minimal for much of that summer, but when visitors started coming back in large numbers that fall, the lack of a shutdown allowed the park to adjust its staffing to meet demand.
Other federal government shutdowns, in 1995-1996 and in 2018-2019, occurred in winter, when most Acadia facilities are closed and visitor traffic slows to a trickle.
But in 2013, there was a 16-day shutdown in early October, which typically is a busy month for Acadia when cruise ship passengers and other tourists come to see the park’s colorful fall foliage. Tour buses popular with cruise ship visitors and other vehicles were locked out, and only a small share of people willing to defy the closure either hiked or biked into the park.
Tourists still came to Bar Harbor anyway, but many local hotels had cancellations and other businesses reported slower sales while the park gates were locked. For many, it was a weak ending to Maine’s 2013 tourist season, which typically winds down in early November as the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees.
Eaton said Wednesday that he is still optimistic that parties in Congress will reach a deal to keep the federal government running and Acadia open for at least another month. He said the chamber and its members will pay close attention to the next few days to whatever information comes out of Washington.
“We can always hope,” he said.