Bill Elliot has noticed a slight increase this week in visitors to Camden Hills State Park.
On Wednesday evening, 60 of the park’s 107 campsites were filled. That’s pretty good for a weeknight in October, the park manager said.
Elliot said he can’t say for sure whether Tuesday’s closure of Acadia National Park, about 70 miles northeast, is the reason why more visitors are coming his way. It could simply be the pleasant weather.
“I guess it’s not a stretch that visitors who are coming from the south would stop here once they discovered Acadia was closed,” Elliot said Thursday.
Of the 58 national parks in the United States, Acadia is the only one east of Shenandoah in northern Virginia. It’s one of the biggest draws for out-of-state visitors to New England, attracting more than 2 million people each year, far more than for any other area in the state.
But the park’s closure for the foreseeable future – particularly if it stays closed through the Columbus Day weekend – could be a silver lining for other tourist areas not affected by the federal government shutdown.
Maine has a $7.5 billion tourist industry. The state draws the bulk of its visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but many areas are busy well into the fall foliage season.
The Maine Office of Tourism said the summer returns have been good this year – restaurant sales are up 2.83 percent over last year and lodging sales are up 4 percent – and they hope the trend continues into the fall.
On Tuesday, the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development sent out a news release to remind people that Acadia is not the only draw on Mount Desert Island or Maine’s coast. It even included a quote from Gov. Paul LePage.
“Bar Harbor is full of trails, restaurants, local attractions and a variety of outdoor-activity businesses,” LePage said. “The scenic wonders of Downeast Maine cannot be closed off by failed leadership in Washington. Our great state has plenty to offer our frequent visitors, and they can’t take that away from us.”
Whether or not other areas of the state are poised to pick up the slack from Acadia’s closure remains to be seen. Representatives from a handful of other state parks along the coast said Thursday that they have not seen an appreciable boost in traffic yet. Some did say they have gotten calls from people who are confused about which parks are closed. Acadia is the only park affected by the government shutdown, although Cobscook Bay State Park in far Downeast Maine closed on Wednesday because the land is actually part of the federally owned Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge.
Bill Kolodnicki, Moosehorn’s refuge manager, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had to ask the state to close the Cobscook Bay campground because of liability concerns and the fact there are no federal staffers available to work because of the shutdown. A boat ramp popular with recreational and some commercial boaters has also been closed.
Steve Lyons, director of marketing for the Office of Tourism, said this might be an opportunity for some visitors to explore areas they might not have otherwise.
“Maine has so many off-the-beaten-path places,” he said.
While some state parks and other areas may have to wait and see whether they get more visitors because of Acadia’s closure, others may not.
Charles Phippen, Bar Harbor’s harbor master, said Wednesday that an agent for the Holland America Line has indicated that if Acadia stays closed, its ships will reroute to Portland. Holland America operates the Veendam, a 1,350-passenger ship that is scheduled to be in Bar Harbor on Friday and again on Sunday. It also owns the Eurodam, which holds more than 2,000 passengers and is supposed to arrive Saturday.
Portland spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city has not heard from any cruise line about rerouting ships to Portland.
From Saturday to the end of October, 35 cruise ships of varying sizes are scheduled to dock in Bar Harbor.
A representative for Chase, Leavitt & Co., which operates several cruise ships visiting Bar Harbor this season, said there are no plans to change its schedule. Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean Cruises, which also bring ships to Bar Harbor, said her company also plans to operate as scheduled.
“We were able to come up with some alternatives in order to accommodate those guests that had booked excursions to the national park,” she said.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be
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