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Tourist season along Maine’s coast typically doesn’t start until May, but the Town Council in Bar Harbor — a town that, aside from the presence of Jackson Laboratory, is almost entirely dependent on tourism — is taking a highly unusual step in asking tourists to stay away for the time being due to coronavirus concerns.
Last week, the council enacted an emergency ordinance to prevent public access to all town buildings and to cancel all municipal board and committee meetings.
On Friday, a notice was posted on the town’s website that said the council “appreciates our visitor and tourist-based businesses, but at this time we recommend that everyone stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. The town’s tourist services such as food and bathroom facilities are very limited.”
Many restaurants and stores in Bar Harbor remain closed because of measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that has killed more than 12,000 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
With schools in and out of Maine also temporarily closed, and many businesses on hiatus while health and governmental officials urge people to avoid contact with each other by staying at home, there have been reports of seasonal homeowners coming to Maine to avoid crowded conditions in big cities, and indications that many people are taking the time to visit parks and beaches nationwide.
State officials say state parks in Maine are seeing more visitors than is normal for this time of year. However, officials with Acadia National Park — who have suspended in-person services to minimize physical contact with potentially infected visitors — say they do not have information about whether more people are heading to Acadia to spend time outside their houses. The park’s operations remain in winter mode, with many bathrooms locked and most paved roads closed to vehicle traffic.
Anecdotally, residents of Bar Harbor and other towns on Mount Desert Island say they are seeing many more cars from out of state than is typical for this time of year, when continuing winter weather often keeps tourists away.
But for those who want to get fresh air, mild weather along Maine’s coast this month has been a temptation. Temperatures in coastal and near-coastal Maine so far in March have been unseasonably warm, with temperatures averaging above-freezing for Portland, Augusta and Bangor — roughly 6 or 7 degrees above normal for the month, according to the National Weather Service.
Despite the nice weather, Bar Harbor officials have expressed concern about what the pandemic might do to the town’s tourism industry this summer, if the disease continues to spread and the 3 to 4 million tourists it usually gets each summer largely stay away.
“We all have concerns,” Jeff Dobbs, chairman of the Bar Harbor Town Council, said last week about the local community. “It’s pretty scary.”
Bar Harbor already is expecting to lose some of its tourist business later this spring, having canceled the first two cruise ship visits scheduled for 2020, both of which were expected in late April. Dozens more cruise ship visit cancellations are expected, in Bar Harbor and Portland, because of a ban on cruise ship operations in Canada until July 1.
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