The number of visitors heading to Maine this Columbus Day weekend, the second-busiest tourism weekend of the year after Labor Day, appears to be about the same or slightly up this year from last year.
Some hotel and campground operators said Sunday that mostly fair weather and level gas prices are making this a strong Columbus Day weekend so far.
“It’s full speed ahead,” said Chip Gray, owner of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, which was sold out for the weekend.
Traffic at the York toll plaza on the Maine Turnpike was virtually identical to last year, said Daniel Moran, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority. A total of 50,000 vehicles passed through the tolls between noon and midnight Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the peak travel times. Traffic figures for Sunday were not available.
Even businesses around Acadia National Park, which has been closed since the federal government shut down Oct. 1, reported brisk business from leaf peepers.
Jim Ash, general manager and co-owner of the Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor, said while lodging is off for the month due to the shutdown, this weekend hotels and motels are sold out because Columbus Day is so strong. He said while some people canceled their reservations, they were quickly replaced by others.
“And the weather cooperated,” Ash said Sunday.
Some state park managers said the numbers visiting state parks appeared to be up from last year, possibly because people who would have gone to Acadia sought out state parks instead.
Columbus Day weekend is the busiest of the year at Camden Hills State Park, and this weekend was no exception. Bill Elliot, park manager, said visitation would probably wind up slightly stronger than last year by the end of the weekend.
“That may be because of Acadia being closed,” said Elliot.
Fritz Appleby, manager of Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, said he expected 2,000 visitors at the park Sunday afternoon.
“By early afternoon after church is out, we will be busting at the seams,” Appleby said.
Leaf-peeping season is the second-busiest time for tourism in Maine, with close to 8 million visitors making the trek in autumn, compared to the 14.7 million visitors to Maine in the summer, according to research for the Maine Office of Tourism.
More leaf peepers head to Maine than Vermont, with Maine pulling in 0.7 percent of the overnight leisure trips last fall in the United States, compared to 0.5 percent for Vermont.
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry reported peak foliage conditions in central and eastern Maine on Wednesday, with color yet to peak along the coast from Camden south. Foliage was past peak in northern and western sections of the state.
Beth Quimby can be reached at 791-6363 at: