ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — More people, different trees and higher tides are among the things people can expect at Maine’s only national park as a result of the changing climate, according to scientists at the park.
Some of these changes already are noticeable, as the warming climate has helped to extend Maine’s tourist season into the fall, resulting in increasingly high visitation numbers at Acadia. The park’s estimate of more than 3.5 million visits last year — a record under the park’s current visitation formula — included more than half a million visitors in September and again in October. Park officials have attributed warm, dry weather in recent falls for the high numbers of people who visit Acadia after Labor Day.
“October is a very busy month now,” Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s head of resource management, said last week.
Aside from the noticeable increase in visitors to the park, which has prompted Acadia to develop its first-ever traffic management plan, climate change is affecting the park in other ways, too.
More severe weather is having an impact on park infrastructure and, in some cases, is aggravating the park’s $60 million deferred maintenance backlog. Though storms are not expected to become more frequent, they generally are becoming more severe, dumping heavier amounts of rain and often whipping up stronger winds buoyed by warming ocean temperatures.
The combination of heavier rains and culverts that have not been properly maintained, for example, can result in road damage, as it did earlier this year when a clogged culvert caused part of Lurvey Spring Road to wash away during a heavy downpour. Unusually wet weather, a dramatic temperature swing and inadequate drainage last winter resulted in a large-scale flood at Sieur De Monts Spring, which then froze, creating an enormous skating area for outdoor enthusiasts but also damaging the site’s nature center building.
“We know we’ve got culverts that are undersized because they were built in the 1930s,” Cole-Will said. “Nobody [back then] thought about engineering for this kind of thing.”