September 26, 2018
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Acadia friends fear fee increase would drive away visitors

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
People take photos as waves crash against rocks at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park in September.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Updated:

Acadia National Park’s largest advocacy group fears a seasonal entrance fee increase proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration would scare away visitors and decrease the park’s budget.

The 5,000-member Friends of Acadia National Park is concerned Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s Tuesday proposal “may serve as a deterrent for the average citizen to enjoy our parks,” David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, said.

“With any change in fee structure, people’s relationships with the park change,” MacDonald said in a statement released Wednesday. “FOA would not want to see such an increase make it more likely that Congress would reduce federal appropriations to support parks.”

The National Park Service’s $11.33 billion deferred maintenance budget deficit spurred the proposal to raise fees, according to Zinke.

The plan, if approved, would take effect in 2018 and set peak season entrance fees in Acadia and 16 of the other most popular national parks at $70 per private, non-commercial vehicle, $50 per motorcycle and $30 per person on bike or foot for seven days during the peak season, according to John Kelly, a management assistant at Acadia.

Acadia’s peak season would run from June 1 to Oct. 31, Kelly said.

Acadia would continue to charge its current weekly rates — $25 for per private, non-commercial vehicle, $20 per motorcycle and $12 per person on bike or foot — during off-peak times, Kelly said.

Acadia currently charges $50 for a 12-month pass. The new proposal would raise that to $75 annually. The current $80 fee for an annual pass allowing entry to all national parks would not change.

The National Park Service began seeking public comment Tuesday on the proposal, which could raise $70 million. The comment period ends Nov. 23.

The steep increases, particularly from $25 per week — one of the park’s most commonly purchased entrance tickets — to $70 during peak months stirred many negative reactions around Bar Harbor, a town of 5,235 as of the last census that depends heavily on tourism, according to Town Councilor Matthew Hochman.

“I think most people are pretty upset about it,” Hochman, a coffee shop owner, said Wednesday. “A lot of it has to do with the size of the increase. I think if the park service said it would be a $5 increase, it would be a lot better accepted.”

The Friends group issues grants of about $1.7 million annually to help fill about 170 full- and part-time positions in the park and its surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island. It is working to determine how the increase would affect the park and the island’s towns, MacDonald said.

Acadia drew a record-setting 3.3 million visitors in 2016. As of the end of August, an estimated 2,341,198 people had visited the park in 2017, about 89,788 visitors ahead of the total for the same period in 2016.

Some park visitors expressed displeasure with the proposal.

“My first thought was, ‘again?’ They upped the fee just a few years ago [2015], from $20 to $25, which is a much more gradual jump than this one,” Bar Harbor resident Brandon Monroe, who manages a downtown takeout restaurant, said. “No one is happy about it. Some understand why. Most agree the rate is too high.”

“I feel most are actually more upset at the idea that the upped rate will deter visitors from coming to the area, not at the fact they themselves will have to pay more for the park,” Monroe added. “The island lives on tourism, and anything that might make visitors choose another destination is not good for us.”

Dawn Fortune, a New Jersey resident who lived in Bar Harbor for several years, said the increase was impractical.

“Acadia has the most porous boundary. You can just walk into Acadia pretty much anywhere,” Fortune said, “and park rangers have a lot better things to do than chase down park passes.”

Park officials are developing a traffic plan due this spring that might add additional controls to park entranceways, but until then, its enforcement is “nearly impossible,” Fortune said.

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