In a rescue that took more than 8 hours to complete, volunteers with Mount Desert Island Search & Rescue help an injured hiker get down from Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park in this July 2018 file photo. Credit: Courtesy of MDI Search & Rescue

As visitation to Acadia National Park continues to surge in the wake of last year’s lackluster pandemic summer, there is an accompanying side effect: emergency response personnel are busier rescuing hikers who need help.

Visits to the park so far this season are already eclipsing levels from 2018, when the national park set a record of 3.53 million visits. Visitation in April was 50 percent higher than the same month in 2018, while May and June saw 30 percent increases over those same months three years ago.

With the spike in visitors, the park is also getting more calls from people who need assistance getting off the trails.

Both Mount Desert Island Search & Rescue — a volunteer group that often provides technical assistance with lifting or carrying people back to parking areas — and local ambulance crews have been busier so far in 2021 than in years past.

MDISAR, which also assists in rescues outside the park, has responded to 29 calls for help in Acadia from Jan. 1 through July 22 this year, which is seven more than they had in the same timeframe in 2019 and 15 more than in 2018. Comparable numbers for 2020 were unavailable because the park remained largely closed during the early days of the pandemic, though visitation steadily increased and later in the year had monthly totals that surpassed those in late 2019.

Local emergency crews have responded to 66 calls in the park so far this year, versus 46 for the first seven months of 2019 and 59 calls for the same period in 2018. Acadia tracks MDISAR and local emergency medical services calls separately, though some calls involve personnel from more than one crew.

MDISAR is on pace to exceed the number of calls it responded to in 2020, when a surge of visitors later in the year resulted in it responding to a record of 40 calls. Last week, the group posted on Facebook that it recently had to respond to three simultaneous calls in the park.

A Boston woman whom MDISAR assisted on one of those rescues after she was injured while hiking in Acadia publicly thanked the group on its Facebook page.

“As one of the injured hikers you saved I can’t begin to thank you all enough for coming to my rescue and getting me to safety,” Ali Jawin wrote. “I’ve never seen such team work and compassion and I am so grateful to all of you.”  

Christie Anastasia, spokesperson for the park, said that the reasons hikers get stranded are varied. About half of the emergency calls requiring that crews carry out hikers involve lower-limb injuries. The other half, she said, have to do with environmental conditions, medical issues or hikers not having appropriate gear.

The dangers hikers in Acadia face also vary. Often, a hiker just twists an ankle and needs help getting back down the trail to their car. But sometimes the accidents prove fatal, though deaths in the park are rare.

In March, two hikers from Massachusetts fell more than 100 feet to their deaths from the top of icy cliffs on Dorr Mountain. Acadia officials have not released specific details about the incident, but it is believed the icy conditions contributed to their fall.

In some cases, according to the park, hikers can avoid having to call rangers for help if they stay on marked trails and have adequate footwear for rough terrain, extra layers of clothing to stay warm, drinking water, a paper map and a flashlight.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....