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People who want to avoid coronavirus and yet get outside and stretch their legs are creating an uptick in the amount of traffic usually seen at state parks this time of year.
State officials won’t have exact crowd estimates until they gather numbers at the end of the month, but the busiest state parks generally are seeing a 30 to 50 percent increase in traffic, said Jim Britt, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
“It’s nothing staggering, but on average, we’re getting traffic now that we typically see during April vacation week,” Britt said Thursday. “It is definitely up, and these are definitely great places to be at this time of year and to enjoy the weather and get out.”
Coronavirus shutdowns of schools and many industries are contributing to the increase of park visitors as the coronavirus continues to radically upend life across the state. With 42 confirmed cases and another 10 presumed cases statewide, Gov. Janet Mills has ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to end dine-in service and banned gatherings of more than 10 people to halt the contagion’s spread. Public schools already have suspended classroom instruction and moved to remote learning, while university campuses have been cleared of students.
Due to the pandemic, Maine’s 48 state parks are open but with curtailed staffing from 9 a.m. to sunset. All Maine state park events, programs, races and guided nature walks through April 30 have been canceled but may be rescheduled for a later date. State playgrounds are closed as well, Britt said.
State parks with the greatest uptick in traffic are among the most popular, such as Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Others are in coastal areas including Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth, Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, Reid State Park in Georgetown and Wolfes Neck State Park in Freeport, Britt said.
Federal and state health officials continue to recommend that people practice “social distancing” by minimizing contact with others, a point Britt said he hopes is drilled into people by now.
“It’s the most important thing we can do,” Britt said.
Britt warned people to stay out of the parks if they do not feel well. Besides social distancing, park visitors should also practice avoiding gathering in groups of 10 people or more and be prepared for sudden closures of parks. Guests are asked to place their entrance fees in their park’s front gate pay station.
Some residents of Mount Desert Island say Acadia National Park also seems to have gotten more visitors in the past couple of weeks, but park officials cannot confirm whether this impression is accurate.
Christie Anastasia, spokesperson for the park, said this week that to protect the health of its staff, the park is not providing in-person orientation services to visitors and therefore cannot assess whether more people are visiting Acadia than is typical for this time of year. The park remains open at its typical seasonal levels, with most paved roads closed to vehicle traffic and carriage paths closed to all users because of the spring thaw, she said.
Anastasia said the National Park Service has suspended entrance fees at all of its properties while federal health officials recommend that people follow preventative coronavirus protocols. But she added that Acadia typically doesn’t actively collect entrance fees until May 1 each year.
BDN writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.