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January 3, 2019

Government shutdown? No problem at Acadia — for now

Photo / Laurie Schreiber
Photo / Laurie Schreiber
Local interests around Acadia National Park are not seeing any impacts from the federal government shutdown, but predict that, if the shutdown continues to drag on, there could be long-term effects.

Despite the federal government shutdown and general lack of snow, visitation at Acadia National Park appears to be on par with previous winters and businesses say they haven't seen any impact — aside from less skiing and more hiking.

"Yesterday, there were people all over the park," said Ron Wanner, senior manager at Cadillac Mountain Sports, which rents and sells winter gear like skis and ice skates. "The national park is open."

But some local interests say they're concerned about the potential for a long-term impact if the shutdown drags on, since winter is often the time when visitors plan their warm-month vacations and park planners plan maintenance and other projects.

"This is the time of year when there are typically a lot of inquiries at the park from folks planning their trips for the coming year," Friends of Acadia President and CEO David McDonald said. "A lot of people send emails or make phone inquiries to the park about planning their trips, and there's nobody to take their inquiries."

Also, he said, park staff does a lot of its planning in the winter for the coming year for things like maintenance projects.

"So it's the longer-term impacts I worry about more — the behind-the-scenes work that benefits the visitors and the resources," McDonald said.

Ice skates and fat-tire bikes

Lack of snow hasn't been a problem either, Wanner said.

"We've been slammed with ice skate rentals," he said. "If you have a decent freeze, you'll have rentals."

At Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, which rents and sells fat-tire bikes that can be ridden on snow, along with other types of bikes, owner Joe Minutolo said the shutdown hasn't had any more of an impact than the on-again off-again winter conditions.

"Overall, we've had a good winter," he said. "You go from having a little snow to no snow. The hard-cores are still going out."

If the shutdown had hit during the summer or fall, "it could have been pretty devastating," he said. "I remember one fall when they had a shutdown, all of a sudden it really got quiet. People didn't realize you could still get into the park. Until the communication got out there" that Acadia was accessible, "it definitely had an effect on us."

Business owners noted that winter is a quiet time anyway at Acadia, and year-round Bar Harbor businesses know to expect a big drop in winter commerce. Still, said Minutolo, more people seem to be discovering wintertime Acadia.

"We're seeing a lot more out-of-state plates," he said.

At Acadia Hotel, in Bar Harbor's downtown, manager Elizabeth Bunker said she hasn't seen an effect from the shutdown.

"If the shutdown goes into the spring, we'll be worried. But as of right now, I'm not," she said. "It hasn't affected my bookings at all. I don't think people are concerned about it yet."

Busy in town

At the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Martha Searchfield said there's been no visible impact. Through the holiday season, she said, "It seemed quite busy around town."

Because of a typically active holiday season, plus the fact that more lodgings and restaurants than ever are open in the winter anyway, it would be difficult to assess whether the shutdown is deterring visitors, she added.

But, she said, "long-term, by the end of January, if we're still in this shutdown, then yes, I will be worried" because people planning their summer vacations will likely be asking if the park will be open.

For now, though, McDonald agreed the shutdown and lack of snow don't seem to be affecting visitation.

Still, in the event of snow, areas that are normally accessible through the winter thanks to plowing by park staff would be impacted by the shutdown, he said. That includes a stretch of the Park Loop Road. Carriage roads that are normally groomed for skiing will not be groomed. Restrooms in the park are closed and no new camping permits for Blackwoods Campground are being issued.

Overall, the consensus is that Acadia does not appear to be experiencing any of the problems — like trash overflow and vandalism — that have been publicized in relation to some national parks out west.

"A lot of the winter visitors are usually repeat visitors — they're locals, they're from Maine — and they're usually self-reliant and independent," said McDonald. "So they're not expecting a lot in the way of visitor support services when they come to Acadia in December or January."

McDonald said a skeleton crew of Acadia employees remains on the job. The year–round staff is usually about 80 to 90 employees.

"The park is already understaffed and underfunded, to so to take those 80 people and sideline them does not help," he said. "So these bigger issues are suffering, even though we're not seeing the visible and headline-grabbing impacts on the ground.

He added, "The visitors here deserve credit — they're being very respectful. They're aware of the impossible situation the park staff is in."

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