February 22, 2019
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Acadia is weathering the worst of the shutdown, but a prolonged closure raises concern

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
A couple walks dogs along Sand Beach on Sunday morning, despite wet weather and a shutdown that has curtailed the number of park employees on duty. Little effects from the shutdown have been felt in Acadia, which each winter gets relatively few visitors and significantly cuts back on available services, but the prospects of a prolonged shutdown has raised concerns among some local residents and park advocates.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — The ongoing shutdown of the federal government, which is now entering its third week, has not had much impact here compared to other National Park Service properties, but there is concern that its effects could become more pronounced if it lingers on much longer.

Since the federal government shut down on Dec. 22, spurred by another showdown between President Donald Trump and Congress over funding for a wall Trump wants built along the border with Mexico, problems have arisen at several national park sites.

Significantly reduced staff and locked bathroom have resulted in garbage piling up and people relieving themselves at some national parks in the West, and three people have died in apparent accidents at three different parks. Deaths occur at national parks when the federal government isn’t closed, but the shortage of working park staff could pose an increased safety risk if rescues are delayed due to a lack of available responders, national park advocates have said.

Trash piles and injuries so far have not been an issue at Acadia, according to David MacDonald, head of Friends of Acadia. He said the park gets far fewer visitors in winter than it does in the spring and fall, and many of its public buildings and roads already had been closed for the winter prior to the shutdown.

Winter visitors tend to be area residents familiar with the park who are well prepared for the conditions and the relative lack of service and other visitors, he said.

“Knock on wood, the park’s winter visitors tend to be quite respectful and knowledgeable about the conditions under which the park is operating,” he said Thursday, adding that the Friends of Acadia has been keeping in touch with park rangers during the shutdown.

Rangers on duty were unavailable for comment on how the park is being affected by the shutdown. A dispatcher who answered the phone last week said all media seeking information about the shutdown are being directed to doi.gov/shutdown.

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
Two plastic barriers placed are illuminated by a car's headlights at Acadia National Park on Jan. 6. Few effects from the shutdown have been felt so far in Acadia, but the prospects of a prolonged shutdown has raised concerns among local residents and park advocates.

MacDonald said the longer the shutdown lasts the more likely its impact will be felt in Acadia. A slower response time could aggravate the seriousness of any injury that occurs inside the park, he said. The small group of rangers that remains on duty could respond to one accident, he said, but may have difficulty responding promptly if more than one incident were occurring at the same time.

“That has not been the case yet,” he said.

Luck could play a role in whether rangers have to respond to any injuries in the park during the shutdown, he said, but the lack of staff working on everyday projects such as planning or maintenance is almost certain to have long-term impacts.

Acadia officials have been working for a couple of years to draft and approve a traffic management plan geared toward reducing congestion in Acadia, which set an annual record of 3.5 million visits in 2017. It also has been trying to make headway on a long list of deferred maintenance projects, which park officials have said have a projected cumulative price tag of nearly $60 million.

With all of Acadia’s top administrators and maintenance staff furloughed due to the shutdown, all maintenance and planning work has come to a halt, MacDonald said, and it will take time once the shutdown ends to get the process moving again.

“It will have an effect,” he said. “It just won’t show up immediately.”

Despite the shutdown — and the wet weekend weather — the park continued to draw visitors on Sunday, though at least one jogger decided not to run along Ocean Drive because of the icy slush on the open but unplowed roadway.

Ashley and Jacob Brooks of Saint Paul, Minnesota, were at Sand Beach on Sunday, having booked plans last spring to celebrate their anniversary on Mount Desert Island. They said they didn’t mind the shutdown, because it was not interfering with their trip.

“We’re glad we can still get in the park,” Ashley Brooks said.

If Ocean Drive had been gated shut where it leads to popular park sites such as Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, she added, “that probably would have ticked us off.”

Kyle Tyler, a Blue Hill resident, hiked Sunday morning from the Sand Beach parking lot up Gorham Mountain and said it was the first time he had ever done the hike without seeing anyone else along the way. He said he believes fewer people were in the park because of the shutdown than there might have been otherwise, even in January.

“It’s a great time to be here,” Tyler said, adding that he prefers the solitude offered by the park in the winter to the crowds that show up during tourist season. “For the wintertime, I don’t think [the shutdown] has a huge impact at all. If anything, it’s a positive.”

But Tyler acknowledged that because the park plays a huge role in the state’s summer tourist industry, it would not be a positive if the shutdown lasts long enough that it interferes with the annual return of tourists in the spring.

“[But] for the next 3 months, I think it’s great,” he said.



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