Acadia National Park had 856,000 fewer visitors between May and September last year than in the same five months the year before, a 30 percent drop-off that was attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Park officials and area tourism professionals are anticipating a significant rebound for the 2021 visitor season, in part because of the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
“I’m pretty bullish for 2021,” said Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider.
Visitors this summer and fall will see some changes in park operations, and not only because of the coronavirus.
Cadillac summit reservations
In May, the park began requiring timed-entry reservations for private vehicles to drive up the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road. That is in response to the gridlock at the summit that has occurred with increasing frequency in recent years.
There is a $6 reservation fee — in addition to the park entrance fee that all visitors must pay — to drive up Cadillac Mountain between dawn and dusk through Oct. 19. The mountain summit tends to be most crowded around sunrise and sunset. Reservations may be made online at Recreation.gov.
“Visitors accessing the Cadillac Summit Road during peak use times will benefit from having assurance that they will find parking and have a more enjoyable experience.” — Kevin Schneider, Acadia National Park Superintendent
Schneider said the $6 fee will fund the infrastructure improvements and extra staff needed to operate the reservation system.
“Visitors accessing the Cadillac Summit Road during peak use times will benefit from having assurance that they will find parking and have a more enjoyable experience,” he said.
Once at the summit, visitors may stay as long as they like.
Island Explorer buses
The fare-free Island Explorer bus system, which did not operate at all last year because of the pandemic, is running this year, but on only half the usual number of routes.
“The continued need to maintain strict social distancing drastically reduces the number of people we can allow on each bus,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, which operates the bus system.
Island Explorer buses can carry 43 passengers, with 30 seated and 13 standing. But this year, the total will be limited to around 12 to 15 passengers.
Given that, Murphy said, “We know that to ensure customer satisfaction, we need to increase the frequency of service. But we do not have enough buses or drivers to offer frequent service on all routes.
“We cannot ask passengers who are turned away to wait 30 or 60 minutes for their next bus, especially when there is a good chance that the next bus will also be full.”
This season, the Island Explorer will have four routes on Mount Desert Island and one on the Schoodic Peninsula. Buses were scheduled to begin running on Schoodic in early June and on Mount Desert Island on June 23. The Island Explorer season ends Oct. 11.
Acadia’s campgrounds, closed all last year because of the coronavirus, are open this year.
But the overall number of available campsites has been reduced “to allow us to spread campers out and to clean the restrooms more frequently,” said Deputy Superintendent Mike Madell.
Blackwoods Campground opened May 7; Seawall and Schoodic Woods campgrounds opened May 26. Campsite reservations may be made 60 days in advance. All reservations must be made online at Recreation.gov.
Park rangers plan to give their popular educational talks starting in mid-June, but perhaps not as many as in the past.
“We will be doing some, but they will be with COVID safety precautions,” said Kate Petrie, Acadia’s education coordinator. “We will have pop-up stations where we can talk to you from 10 feet away and you can look at objects we’ve set out.
“We also will have some carriage road walks and bicycle trips on carriage roads, but they are all socially distanced. In the campgrounds, we’re looking at how we can space people out in the amphitheaters and do slide shows.”
To find out which ranger programs are being offered when, Petrie said, “Google ‘ranger led programs Acadia,’ and that will bring you right to our calendar.”
Masks and distancing
To protect against the spread of COVID-19, visitors to Acadia are required to wear face masks and keep a safe distance in all indoor facilities including visitor centers, restrooms and gift shops. That applies, too, to Island Explorer buses. Island Explorer bus riders also must wear face masks.