Acadia park visitation up in ’09

Posted June 18, 2010, at 12:16 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:09 p.m.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The number of people who visited Acadia may have risen a little bit, but the results of a visitor survey conducted last year indicate that the type of people who visit the park hasn’t changed much in the past 11 years.

Charlie Jacobi, recreation specialist for Acadia National Park, said Thursday that the number of visitors to Acadia increased slightly from 2,075,000 in 2008 to 2,230,000 in 2009. He said that those numbers are consistent with the pattern established over the past six years, during which park visitation has fluctuated between 2 million and 2.2 million from year to year.

Last year was the first time since 1998, however, that the park conducted a survey of people who visit the park. The demographic results of the survey, which yielded 854 completed questionnaires, resemble those from the survey Acadia did 11 years ago, he said.

More than 90 percent of the park’s visitors are United States citizens, and most of those are from northeastern states. Maine comprises the largest selection of those visitors, according to the survey results, but Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut also were well represented.

People from outside the United States, most of them from Canada, made up about six percent of the park’s visitors in 2009, according to Jacobi.

Jacobi said many of the park’s visitors — more than half — are between the ages of 36 and 65, and that the percentage of children 15 years or younger who visit the park remained at between 20 and 25 percent. The park has made an effort to promote healthy living for children by getting them outside in Acadia, he said.

“Our population of visitors hasn’t changed dramatically,” he said. “There doesn’t appear to be fewer kids in the park.”

Jacobi said that interpretation of the survey results wasn’t always easy. Some Mount Desert Island residents may have said that their visit to Acadia lasted a full year, just based on the fact that they drive through portions of the park each day, even though they aren’t really spending time in the park, he said. Other survey results suggest that respondents may have provided conflicting answers to different questions.

The survey results do indicate that people may be spending less time in Acadia when they visit Mount Desert Island than they did 11 years ago. The average length of visit to MDI in 2009 was 4.2 days, the same as it was in 1998, but the average length of time spent in Acadia during those visits dipped from 3.5 days to 2.7 days.

Jacobi said these results could indicate that tourists are spending more time outside the park when they visit MDI. But for people who live on or near MDI, they might just have less time to spare, he said.

“People might be more stressed for time at home,” he said.

Aside from demographic information, the survey helps park officials collect feedback about park facilities and programs, according to Jacobi. The results indicate which park attractions are the busiest, whether restrooms are being cleaned often enough, and whether visitors are satisfied by ranger-led interpretive programs, such as trips to Baker Island or falcon-observing below the Precipice Trail.

Some notable differences between 1998 and 2009 include a higher percentage of people using the park website — up to 43 percent from 20 percent — and a decrease in the percentage of visitors who bring their own trailers or tow campers from 26 percent to 7 percent.

The survey results indicate that 90 percent of survey respondents brought their own personal, everyday vehicles such as cars and pickup trucks to the park, up from 70 percent in 1998, but also that about 20 percent of park visitors use the free Island Explorer bus system while visiting Acadia. The bus system, which as of last summer had carried more than 3 million passengers during its history, did not begin operations until 1999, after the prior survey had been completed.

Jacobi said the pending introduction of the Island Explorer bus system was the reason why the park conducted the survey in 1998. He said he is not sure how long it will take for Acadia to do another, but it likely will be sooner next time around.

“I’m sure it will probably be less than an 11-year interval,” he said.

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