ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Park officials say that with last month’s approval by Congress of this year’s appropriations bill, Acadia’s budget through September 2014 is higher than they had expected.
While acknowledging that announcement as good news, the head of the nonprofit Friends of Acadia still considers the park “dramatically underfunded.”
The $7.7 million Acadia National Park budget approved by Congress means that the park won’t have to face a repeat of the spring of 2013, when sequestration slowed the opening of seasonal facilities and frustrated the local business community, Len Bobinchock, deputy superintendent for the park, told Acadia’s advisory panel on Monday.
He said that park officials had been warned to expect a budget that was approximately 8 percent less than the park’s previous year budget total, which was $7.8 million. That would have meant a budget of $7.3 million, but instead they got roughly $400,000 more than that.
“We see no problem with opening the Park Loop Road and Visitor’s Center on April 15, as we normally would every year,” Bobinchock said.
Last spring, sequestration-related cuts to the federal budget delayed opening of many seasonal facilities such as the Park Loop Road and Visitors Center, which resulted in fewer tourists showing up and less business for Bar Harbor shops, restaurants and hotels.
The local business community expressed frustration with the extended closures, saying that it was having a direct and adverse impact on the area’s economy, most of which is tied to the summer tourism season. Local business leaders encouraged people to bring bicycles to the park and to take advantage of the lack of cars on the closed roads as a way to boost the local tourism industry, but could not overcome the effects of the delayed openings.
According to the National Park Service, Acadia generated more than $186 million for the state economy in 2011, when the park’s annual budget was $7.9 million.
David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, told the advisory commission on Monday that, while not repeating the delayed openings and closures of 2013 — which included a 16-day shutdown of federal government in October — is a good thing, Acadia National Park should have more annual operating funds than $7.7 million.
“That’s not enough,” MacDonald told the panel, adding that for several years the park has had to contend with a backlog of maintenance projects, unfilled staff positions and insufficient National Park Service funding for the seasonal Island Explorer bus system, which receives much of its financial support from private donations.
“This park still is dramatically underfunded,” MacDonald said.