WINTER HARBOR, Maine — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited Acadia National Park on Friday, touting bipartisan legislation from last year that will direct nearly $2 billion a year toward maintenance and infrastructure investments at national parks, some of which have seen record numbers of visits this year as travelers venture out following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
Haaland, the first member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet to visit Maine since the president’s January inauguration, appeared with the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation and Gov. Janet Mills at the Schoodic Institute.
All four of Maine’s congressional representatives — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree — cosponsored the Great American Outdoors Act, which former President Donald Trump signed into law last August.
Haaland’s visit came about a week after heavy rain washed out 10 miles of Acadia’s 45-mile famed carriage road system. Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said the park is seeking emergency federal funds to repair the roads, but that the ruined portions will remain closed until they’re repaired.
Some 3.5 million people are expected to visit Acadia this summer, a figure King jokingly bet as a conservative number.
“The biggest problem we have in our national parks is that we’re loving them to death,” he said. “We have to figure out how to [deal with] congestion.”
Some money from the Great American Outdoors Act will fund projects aimed at alleviating parking and transit congestion. In recent years, Acadia has worked on addressing congestion in some of its most crowded spots, such as Cadillac Mountain, where the park this year started charging vehicles $6 for a reservation to drive up to the summit.
Haaland visited Acadia a day after she met with representatives from the four federally recognized Native American tribes in Maine, who asked for her help in seeking sovereignty like that enjoyed by other U.S. tribes.
Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo tribe, is the first Native American to serve as U.S. secretary of the interior, which oversees federal Native American policy through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Haaland is also the first Native American Cabinet secretary.
Asked Friday whether she supported the Maine tribes’ quest for sovereignty, she said she wanted to hear from the tribes and give them a seat at the table.
“Tribal consultation and tribal voices are a priority for this government,” Haaland said. “President Biden has led us to an all-of government approach when it comes to Indian tribes.”
Haaland opened her appearance Friday with an acknowledgment that she was on lands that originally belonged to the Wabanaki people.
In advance of Haaland’s Friday appearance, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma surprised visitors at Acadia with two impromptu concerts on Thursday. On Friday, he and Wabanaki musicians performed at a sunrise concert at Schoodic Point that Haaland attended.