April 22, 2018
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Sun brings visitors to Maine vacation spots

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — When the sun comes out, so do the people.

After weeks of rainy, cloudy and foggy weather, the sun finally came out for the Memorial Day weekend, and people — Mainers and tourists alike — flocked to popular vacation spots to enjoy the unfamiliar sight.

Although early numbers for the spring may be down because of the weather, Acadia National Park teemed with visitors during the weekend, according to Park Ranger Richard Rechholtz.

“There are a lot of people out enjoying the park,” Rechholtz said Monday. “And I was surprised how busy we were yesterday.”

The carriage trails, hiking trails and the campgrounds all were busy throughout the weekend, he said.

The same was true in the village of Bar Harbor. According to Nancy Tibbetts, the president of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, advance reservations were slow because of the weather, but with the promise of sunshine, people made the last-minute decision to come to the island.

“I think this was a typical Memorial Day weekend,”  Tibbetts said Monday afternoon. “It was a good weekend. The weather got them here. I was just downtown, and they’re still here today.”

The weekend got off to a good start with a visit on Friday from one of the many cruise ships that will visit the island this summer.

“We were busy,” she said. “It’s always good to have [the cruise ships] back,” she said. “It helps the restaurants and our other members.”

The weather is the controlling factor for the summer, but Tibbetts said that hotel reservations in the area appear to be even with last year, and maybe even up a little. That bodes well for the rest of the season, she said.

“We’re looking forward to a good summer,” she said.

The region may get a bump in interest thanks to Boston Magazine, which, in its June issue, touts Bar Harbor as a top getaway destination for Bostonians to “get out of town for a little R&R.”

“Bar Harbor is five hours north of Boston, but it’s more than worth the drive,” the magazine noted, “mostly because there’s an activity [or lack of activity] to suit every mood.”

The magazine reaches more than 500,000 readers monthly, and though Tibbetts said she has not heard any visitors mention the article yet, that kind of publicity is sure to attract some attention to the area.

At Fort Knox State Historic Site, traffic picked up on Monday after a slower-than-average start to the weekend, according to Manager Mike Wilusz.

“The observation tower is a big draw for us now,” Wilusz said. “If it’s foggy we’re down. But on a cloudy day, the view is still pretty good, and people come in.”

The fort fired up the its large brick oven on Saturday and Sunday, baking bread and other things the way it was done more than 100 years ago. That kept a steady, but lower than normal, flow of visitors coming to park.

Weather will be the key to the season, Wilusz said.

“It’s funny,’’ he said. “Sometimes when we start slow, we end up strong.”

Other state parks also reported a similar holiday weekend, with Monday — and its abundant sunshine — seeing the heaviest traffic.

“We had a fairly busy day today,’’ Corie Dimmitt, the manager at the Swan Lake State Park in Swanville, said Monday. “We sold a lot of season passes. People wanted to get started on their passport books.”

Last year, the Bureau of Parks and Lands began the passport program through which it provides passports to park visitors that they can have stamped with a distinctive stamp at the participating parks around the state.

Monday was the busiest day, Dimmitt said.

“We had the weather,” she said.

Camping was strong at Lake St. George State Park in Liberty, with all of the 38 camp sites full. But day traffic was off until Monday. The story was the same at Cobscook Bay State Park in Washington County, where visitation was lower than usual until Monday, when picnickers and hikers turned out in larger numbers.

The Maine Turnpike Authority reported that close to 60,000 vehicles passed through the York toll booths between noon Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday. At the Kittery Visitor Center, Assistant Manager Martha Rothwell reported that the number of visitors requesting information was down slightly from last year. On Saturday, normally the busiest day of the Memorial Day weekend at the center, the staff responded to 2,290 information requests, down from 2,700 requests last year. Rothwell noted that the weather likely was a factor.

“Last year, the weather was more predictably fair than it has been this year with the fog and the drizzle,” she said.

Although the numbers were down, the visitors that were coming into Maine were looking forward to their stay in the state.

“The people I’ve talked to have been very enthusiastic about visiting Maine,” Rothwell said. “They’re very excited about being here.”

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