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June 13, 2022

With far fewer seasonal workers than planned, Acadia braces for a busy summer

reflection of people cars dog Photo / Laurie Schreiber Visitors are flocking to Acadia National Park and surrounding towns, with indications that numbers could be on par with 2021. Downtown Bar Harbor, viewed in a coffee shop’s reflection, was busy last weekend.

The number of seasonal employees so far at Acadia National Park is 20% lower than its goal, in a year that shows signs of reaching 2021’s record-breaking visitation.

Memorial Day weekend was very busy and queues of cars were waiting 25 to 45 minutes to get through the entrance station at Sand Beach, the park’s primary entrance, Acadia’s superintendent, Kevin Schneider, told the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission at its triannual meeting last week.

Early indications are that visitation is on par with Memorial Day weekend 2021, which broke records, he said.

“So this was a litmus test,” he said.

April was down 4.5% compared with 2021, with 105,000 visitors for the month this year compared with 110,000 last year.

“One of our bigger challenges this year will be our staffing levels,” he said. 

Last year, Acadia had nearly 4.1 million visitors, the highest number since 1989, when 5.4 million people visited Acadia, according to the National Park Service. The park's 2021 attendance ranked No. 16 among all national parks, just ahead of Cape Cod National Seashore and behind the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

For this year, the park’s goal was to hire 150 seasonal staffers, but has only 120. A big reason for the lower number is the lack of affordable employee housing. Acadia has about 75 beds for its seasonal workforce. 

Empty positions include about a dozen fee collectors as well as trail crew and interpretative rangers who perform tasks such as working in the visitor center. Unlike past years, there are no lifeguards at Sand Beach or Echo Lake. 

“That ties into the national shortage of lifeguards,” Schneider noted. The park is also down a couple of seasonal law enforcement rangers.

The situation signals the importance of employee housing, he said.

The park is working to address the housing situation, however. Most recently, a proposal to develop 55 acres near Acadia as workforce housing took a step forward, when U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, introduced legislation to transfer the parcel to the town of Bar Harbor.

The undeveloped land is in the village of Town Hill, which lies on Bar Harbor’s outskirts. Approval of the bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would allow the National Park Service to transfer 40 acres to the town to be used for islandwide workforce housing. The park would retain 15 acres to be used for its employee housing. 

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed on that,” said Schneider.

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