ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — For the first time since the federal government shutdown of 1995, Maine’s only national park was closed down Tuesday morning in its entirety.
Unlike the 1995 closure — which occurred in November, after the park operations already had been reduced to winter levels — this closure occurs during prime fall tourist season on Mount Desert Island, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people each September and October.
At the park’s Visitors’ Center in Hulls Cove, park staff erected barricades Tuesday morning and signs indicating that the park was closed due to the federal government shutdown. Some visitors who were turned away got out of their vehicles to pose for photographs next to the signs before driving off.
Annette Hart, one of four women from Yorkville, Ill., who had driven up to Acadia for the day from Rockland, said they had been planning to visit Acadia for some time.
“We’ve been training for two years at CrossFit for this hike — no kidding,” Hart said. She added that the shutdown should be as inconvenient for the Washington politicians who caused it as it is for average citizens.
“They shouldn’t be getting their pay when the park is closed,” she said.
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County also was closed to the public on Tuesday, according to a press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Access to refuge properties are prohibited and all wildlife management and public programs are cancelled until funding is renewed, according to the release. “Only limited functions [will] continue, such as those necessary to respond to emergencies and to protect human life or property.”
In neighboring Hancock County, Nicole and Jonathan Coultas of Neenah, Wis., arrived in Bar Harbor last Saturday for a weeklong vacation to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Married in 2008, they spent their honeymoon on Mount Desert Island visiting Acadia.
The couple said they were able to spend a few days in the park before Tuesday’s shutdown and had been planning to go to the Jordan Pond House restaurant in the park on Friday night for their anniversary dinner. When they realized the shutdown might happen, they changed their reservations to Monday night, before the shutdown, to make sure they wouldn’t get turned away.
They said they plan to go sailing Wednesday and perhaps kayaking another day — ocean activities that are not affected by the park’s closure. Biking in the park, however, seems to be out.
“The bike thing is not going to pan out for right now anyway,” Jonathan Coultas said.
He said he is critical of the stalemate in Washington that led to the shutdown. Congress and President Obama, Coultas said, need to come up with a resolution.
“Talk like adults,” he said. “Get something worked out. You don’t need to shut everything down just to prove points.”
Bar Harbor’s sidewalks were congested Tuesday with tourists, many of whom were passengers from two large cruise ships anchored in Frenchman Bay, who otherwise may have been in the national park had it remained open. Local business owners said, however, that a protracted closure — and the political standoff in Washington, D.C., that led to the government shutdown — will not be good for the local economy.
Jena Young, owner of Side Street Cafe, said she was upset and discouraged to learn Tuesday morning about the park being shut down. She is offering discounts to furloughed federal employees at her business, but said she would prefer that Acadia be open.
“In the long term, the park shutdown will really, really affect our entire town,” Young said. “We‘re probably a little bit busier today, but I would rather see the park open and be slower [in the cafe] than see a packed restaurant and have the park closed down.”
The park’s official stance is that people are not allowed in the park while it is closed, but many people willing to hike or ride bikes into Acadia seemed undeterred Tuesday afternoon. Dozens of cars were parked along state highways that pass through park property, while several bicyclists were seen maneuvering around barricades to access park roads.
“Rangers will be out working to enforce the closure,” a park dispatcher said Tuesday afternoon. Rangers were unavailable Tuesday afternoon to comment, the dispatcher said.
Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbormaster, said Tuesday afternoon that the park closure has not resulted in any canceled cruise ship visits. There are 39 such visits scheduled between Tuesday and the end of October, when the cruise ship season ends, he said.
Phippen said it is possible that some ships could change their itineraries and skip Bar Harbor, but that likely would depend on how long the shutdown lasts. If ships like the Caribbean Princess, a 3,100-passenger ship that was in port on Tuesday, decide not to stop at Bar Harbor, he said, it could mean significantly fewer sales on those days for many local businesses, he said.
“That will be a significant revenue loss if they cut out of here,” Phippen said of the expected ships.
Julie Veilleux, owner of the home furnishing store Windowpanes, said Tuesday that many people take cruises to Bar Harbor specifically to see Acadia up close. President Obama’s visit to Acadia in 2010, she added, was “huge” in helping to boost the area’s tourism industry.
The ongoing standoff in Washington does not make her proud, she said, but she remains proud about her country, if not its political leadership.
“I think we need to do everything we can to encourage people to come to our national parks,” Veilleux said.
Jeffrey Hunter of Rochester, N.Y., and his wife arrived Monday at Blackwoods Campground in the park for a two-week stay, but on Tuesday he was packing up again. He said they found another site at a private campground in Bass Harbor and were going there for the rest of their visit to MDI.
Hunter said he and his wife are happy to hike into the park on foot, even if they are not supposed to. A political independent, he said he was not happy, however, with the political stalemate in Washington and the effect it has had on their vacation, which they have been planning for the past nine months.
“It’s B.S., but what can you do?” he said.