ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Half of Maine’s congressional delegation got a firsthand look Thursday at some of the deferred maintenance issues affecting the state’s only national park when they met with Acadia officials and got a tour of some of the facilities that need fixing up.
U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin met at Acadia headquarters with park officials, including Dan Smith, a Maine native and deputy director of the National Park Service who currently is serving as its acting director. In addition to learning more about the park’s deferred maintenance needs, the meeting gave officials the chance to promote legislation pending in Congress that would dedicate $6.5 billion in federal funds toward capital improvement projects spread throughout the National Park Service system.
“We’re talking about $1.3 billion a year for five years. It basically gives us over $6 billion towards the $11.6 billion [system-wide maintenance backlog] in the five years,” Smith said. “I would hope that if the park service delivers on that, and if Congress reviews what we would do in that time frame, that hopefully we would get a reauthorization for another five years, but that’s down the road. I would take this five-year [proposal] now and be a very happy person.”
Acadia superintendent Kevin Schneider said that annual visits to the park have soared by 59 percent over the past decade, from roughly 2 million a year to more than 3.5 million in 2017.
“Acadia National Park has been pretty busy in the last few years,” Schneider said. “We need to be prepared to welcome [visitors], and that means infrastructure. We need to have clean restrooms. We need to have good visitors centers, good roads, good trails, good carriage roads.”
The park looks good to many visitors, Schneider said, but much of the maintenance that has been neglected is behind the scenes and out of sight, such as clogged culverts. Recently approved projects that park officials have said are overdue are interior upgrades to the Hulls Cove Visitors Center, and improving the power supply to the Schoodic Education and Research Center on the eastern side of Frenchman Bay.
King said Maine is the only state in whose entire congressional delegation has signed on in support of the park maintenance funding bill. In a show of solidarity, members from the respective staffs of Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen. Susan Collins also attended Thursday’s meeting.
“It’s an enormous part of Maine, of the economy of Maine, of the spirit of Maine,” King said. “It’s inexcusable that we are not able to maintain these wonderful facilities. This is going to, and it already is, spilling over into the visitor experience. This is the moment that we might be able to make [the maintenance funding bill] happen.”
Poliquin said studies show 4,400 jobs in Maine are supported by tourism generated directly by Acadia National Park.
“This is an economic engine for this part of our state,” Poliquin said. “It is critically important to keep it going. You have to be safe and comfortable when you come to Acadia. It is our responsibility to maintain this, and we will do it.”
The House version of the bill, which closely mirrors its counterpart bill in the Senate, was advanced last week through the Natural Resources Committee. The funds for facilities maintenance at national parks and other federal lands would be raised from unobligated royalties from energy production on federal waters and lands.
Chief among Acadia’s desires for upgrading its facilities — a $59.8 million wish list more than 350 items long — is a new maintenance building at its headquarters on Eagle Lake Road, where federal officials spoke with reporters Thursday after meeting privately with Acadia’s top brass.
The current maintenance building, constructed in the mid-1950s, is considered beyond repair by park officials because of structural issues that have resulted from a relative lack of work that has been done on it over the decades. The park hopes to get $20 million to build a new one on the other side of the headquarters campus, outside the watershed area of Eagle Lake, which serves as the water supply for downtown Bar Harbor.
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