The Obama administration said Thursday that it will allow states to reopen national parks during the federal government shutdown if they use their own money to fund operations, but Maine is not likely to reopen Acadia National Park.
Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said that reopening Acadia may sound like a good idea, but “where would the money come from?”
“We have constraints on the budget,” she said.
A report released Thursday estimated that $750 million in spending by national park visitors was lost in the first 10 days of the government shutdown, including $5.2 million from potential visitors to Acadia.
Using figures from 2012, the report by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees estimated that the 59 national parks had lost an average of 715,000 visitors each day since Oct. 1, when the shutdown began. Acadia lost an estimated 68,000 visitors in the first 10 days of the shutdown.
The report projected that $76 million in spending by visitors is lost each day, including $450,000 daily that would go directly to the National Park Service through visitor fees and other in-park spending.
“These figures are mind-boggling and they only begin to capture the full economic shock of the locking up of the crown jewels of America — our national parks,” Maureen Finnerty, former superintendent of Everglades and Olympic national parks, said in a prepared statement. “Towns, cities and even whole states that depend on park tourism are feeling an increasingly strong pinch.”
Business owners in Bar Harbor said there has been a noticeable decline in business since Acadia shut down.
Julius Wilson, general manager of the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center, said he has had a fair number of cancellations since last week.
“Even though the park is integral, we want people to know that Bar Harbor is not shut down,” he said. “But I’d be crazy to say it hasn’t hurt.”
Brian Smith, who owns McKay’s Public House, a restaurant in town, said he has seen a slight drop in business.
Smith said he has talked to other restaurateurs who have actually seen more customers in the last week, particularly at lunchtime.
“If the park is closed, they have to go somewhere,” he said “So they are going into town.”
Wilson and Smith said the area would benefit if LePage decided to reopen the park with state funds.
“Even if it’s just through the (Columbus Day) weekend, that would help recoup any losses,” Wilson said.
At least four Western states have asked the Obama administration for permission to reopen national parks to halt any further economic impact. U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Thursday that her department will consider requests from governors who want to reopen national parks in their states, as long as they use state resources to fund operations.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told The Associated Press that he plans to use state resources to open his state’s five national parks. The governors of South Dakota, Arizona and Colorado have made similar requests to the administration.
But Bennett said LePage is unlikely to use state money to reopen Acadia because the state doesn’t have any flexibility in its budget. She said the uncertainty about how long the government shutdown will last makes it even harder to contemplate such a decision.
Acadia, on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, draws an estimated 2 million people every year, many during the summer and fall. The entire island, especially the town of Bar Harbor, relies heavily on visitors who spend money during their stays at restaurants, hotels and stores.
The upcoming Columbus Day holiday has traditionally been popular for visitors, since it comes at the height of foliage season. The fall foliage report issued by the Maine Office of Tourism on Thursday said the Bar Harbor area will have peak leaf conditions this weekend.
Thursday’s report by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees estimates that more than 3,300 jobs are at risk because of Acadia’s shutdown. The park is open year-round, but some of its roads and attractions close during the winter. For most businesses that support the park, the season ends by Nov. 1.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said the businesses have been doing their best to weather the storm so far.
“It’s certainly not ideal, but it has forced a lot of downtown merchants to be creative with tours and excursions that don’t involve that park, particularly for cruise ship passengers, who are still coming in regularly,” he said.
There has been unease in the communities around Acadia about whether visitors will still come to the area. Fogg said hotels have had some cancellations over the past week but the island is still busy. He would not offer an opinion about whether the governor should use state funds to reopen the park.
Other areas, including state parks along the coast such as Camden Hills State Park and Popham Beach State Park, have had slight increases in visitors over the past week, but park officials could not say whether that could be tied to Acadia’s closure.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @PPHEricRussell