ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — A day after the federal shutdown resulted in the abrupt closure of the largest tourist draw in eastern Maine, local officials and residents are trying to adjust.
Acadia National Park typically averages more than two million visitors a year and of those, several hundred thousand arrive in fall to view the dramatic landscape draped in colorful fall foliage. Tuesday’s shutdown came in the middle of Mount Desert Island’s fall tourist season, with roughly 40 more cruise ship visits expected in Bar Harbor through the end of the month.
“This is a wonderful time to visit Bar Harbor,” Chris Fogg, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce, said in a prepared statement.
But local business owners have acknowledged that a protracted shutdown could be significant for the island’s tourism industry saying that If the park remains closed for a while, tourists and cruise ship companies planning to visit might change plans.
Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbormaster, said Wednesday afternoon that he has not received any cancellation notices from cruise ship companies.
No one has been affected more than nearly 200 employees at Acadia National Park now out of work. Only 15 “essential” employees who work in the park’s ranger and maintenance division and one staffer at Blackwoods Campground remain on duty, which is allowing registered campers to stay until 11 a.m. Thursday, according to Chief Ranger Stuart West.
West said that though many people seem to be visiting the park from state roads that run through park property, rangers have been asking anyone they see in the park to leave immediately.
“We’re doing what we can with the staff available,” West said Wednesday.
West added that rangers on duty will be making sure emergency access into the park is not impeded. People who drive past barricades to park on Acadia roads will be cited, and vehicles parked in front of gates or blocking access run the risk of having their cars towed, he said.
Attempts Wednesday to contact furloughed Acadia employees were unsuccessful.
Jennifer Webber, the lone staff member remaining at Blackwoods Campground, said that more than 70 registered campers were there Tuesday but only about 30 remained Wednesday. She said some campers expressed anger, while others were more sympathetic to the situation
Acadia’s other campground, Seawall, closes down each year Oct. 1, park officials said.
Webber said most campers have been able to find other sites at private campgrounds on MDI, but some are moving on to other stops as part of longer trips they already planned.
Despite the closure, many aspects of the island’s tourism season are up and running. The seasonal Island Explorer bus system, which provides free transportation around MDI, is expected to continue operating through Columbus Day, when it shuts down every year, according to a top Island Explorer official.
Paul Murphy, general manager of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer system, said Tuesday that the only route that has been eliminated due to the shutdown is the one that follows Park Loop Road. He noted all other bus routes that use state highways to get to and from other villages on MDI continue to operate but are not stopping at usual stops in the park.
Murphy said that some people who can’t drive through the park are opting to ride Island Explorer buses around MDI simply to enjoy the scenery, but the bus system does not have the capacity to carry hundreds of cruise ship passengers who normally would ride chartered buses.
“We have limited resources, in terms of funds and vehicles,” Murphy said. “We do our best, and we’re not going to leave anyone behind, but it is a strain.”
Whale watch boats, kayak guides and bus tours still are taking customers out for views of the island, and there are also some scenic trails and pathways in various MDI villages outside the park boundary.
“Bar Harbor is full of trails, restaurants, local attractions and a variety of outdoor-activity businesses,” Gov. Paul LePage said in a prepared statement. “The scenic wonders of Downeast Maine cannot be closed off by failed leadership in Washington. Our great state has plenty to offer our frequent visitors, and they can’t take that away from us.”
Fogg, the Chamber director, said in a statement that all of the town’s hotels and restaurants remain in business. Museums, golf courses and other retail shops also are open.
“We are disappointed to be caught up in the wash of this political standoff, and we encourage the Congress and President Obama to work together to resolve it,” Fogg said. “Perhaps they need to get out off the D.C. environment and summit in Bar Harbor to get some perspective on what is really important. We’d be happy to host them.”