The vehicle entrance fee to Acadia National Park would jump 180 percent – from $25 to $70 – next year under a National Park Service proposal already eliciting concerns from some Bar Harbor-area groups and businesses.

The park service says revenue from the price hike it is considering at Acadia and 16 other popular parks during peak tourism season would be used to reduce a backlog in maintenance and infrastructure projects.

At Acadia, which consistently ranks among the top 10 most-visited national parks, the “peak visitor season” would stretch from June 1 to Oct. 31. In addition to per-vehicle costs, entrance fees for individuals would rise from $12 to $30, while the fee for motorcyclists would jump from $20 to $50 during the peak season.

Those fees cover park access for seven days. The cost of an annual pass to Acadia will increase from $50 to $75. The park access fees would not change for vehicles, motorcycles and individuals from Nov. 1 to May 31.

“The infrastructure of our national parks is aging and in need of renovation and restoration,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Targeted fee increases at some of our most-visited parks will help ensure that they are protected and preserved in perpetuity and that visitors enjoy a world-class experience that mirrors the amazing destinations they are visiting.”

However, Maine’s Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whose district includes Acadia, expressed concern about the effect the proposed price increase would have on Mainers and the state’s tourism industry.

“This proposal for drastic price increases came as a surprise to me, and I worry about the negative impact it will have for attracting tourists to the park and preventing Mainers from enjoying its beauty,” Poliquin said in an email Wednesday night. “I encourage all Mainers to submit comments to the National Park Service about this unfair proposal.”

The National Park Service is accepting public comments on the proposed fee hikes through Nov. 23.

While acknowledging the backlog in maintenance projects, Poliquin said he plans to discuss the matter with the park service in hopes it can find a solution that “will not disrupt the attraction to Acadia that the region relies on, and can ensure that Maine families are able to still visit Acadia without a burdensome financial cost.”

Friends of Acadia, a nonprofit that works with the park, was quick to raise concerns about the potential increase.

“FOA was definitely surprised by the timing and the scale of this proposal, and are concerned that such an increase may serve as a deterrent for the average citizen to enjoy our parks,” David MacDonald, president and CEO of Friends of Acadia, said in a statement. “With any change in fee structure, people’s relationships with the park change. We are working to find out more about how the proposed increases might affect visitors to Acadia and the economy of the surrounding communities. How the new revenue would be used, and how it might affect Acadia’s budget, also needs to be clearly understood.”

CONCERN MIXED WITH UNDERSTANDING

In 2016, Acadia reported 3.3 million “visits,” up from roughly 2.8 million visits the previous year. That placed Acadia eighth in total visitors among the national parks behind such other big-name locations as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Businesses across Mount Desert Island and Hancock County depend on Acadia visitors, so a dramatic entrance fee hike is likely to cause some discomfort.

“We are always concerned about fees going up. There is no question about that,” said Joe Minutolo, manager at Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop, which rents bikes to people interested in riding the Park Loop Road or Acadia’s miles of carriage trails. “But I understand the reason for those fees going up.”

Minutolo credited Acadia staff with doing a tremendous job of trying to keep up with maintenance and infrastructure needs within the roughly 50,000-acre park. While he acknowledged that a jump from $25 to $70 for a vehicle fee could dissuade some day visitors, Minutolo also pointed out that $70 is less than many people pay for ski lift tickets or other activities.

And he pointed out that just a few dollars more would purchase an annual pass.

“The jury is still out,” Minutolo said.

Likewise, Martha Searchfield with the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce said she and others in the business community were still digesting the news. The chamber’s government affairs committee will discuss the proposed fee hikes at an upcoming meeting before the organization files official comments with the National Park Service.

“I don’t know yet,” Searchfield said.

Under federal law, 80 percent of entrance fee revenues must stay in the park where it was collected. The National Park Service estimates the higher fees will generate an additional $70 million a year, which is a 34 percent increase over the fees collected in fiscal year 2016.

The “deferred maintenance” backlog for the National Park Service system stood at $11.3 billion as of last September, including an estimated $71 million in deferred maintenance at Acadia. But the Trump administration proposed cutting the fiscal year 2018 budget at the Department of the Interior, which includes the park service, by roughly 12 percent.

‘FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE OF REVENUE SOURCES’

The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit that advocates for the park system, said Wednesday that entrance fees, if done appropriately, could help to address the massive maintenance backlog. But fees are not the only answer to the problem.

“We should not increase fees to such a degree as to make these places – protected for all Americans to experience – unaffordable for some families to visit,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement. “The solution to our parks’ repair needs cannot and should not be largely shouldered by its visitors. The administration just proposed a major cut to the National Park Service budget even as parks struggle with billions of dollars in needed repairs. If the administration wants to support national parks, it needs to walk the walk and work with Congress to address the maintenance backlog.”

MacDonald with Friends of Acadia also cited both the maintenance backlog and the proposed budget cuts in his concerns about the potential fee hikes.

“The key is finding the right balance of revenue sources to address those needs,” MacDonald said. “FOA would not want to see such an increase make it more likely that Congress would reduce federal appropriations to support parks.”

To comment on the entrance fee proposal, go to: parkplanning.nps.gov/document.cfm?documentID=83652 or click here.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH