Friday, April 25, 2014
For months, Julie and Eugene Gillies of South Portland planned to celebrate their wedding anniversary in Bar Harbor.
Two people bike around a gate at Acadia National Park last Thursday. Park rangers have begun ticketing people who enter the park, closed because of the government shutdown.
Photo by Glenn Jordan/Staff Writer
Titus Steinberg, 5, of Herne, Germany, hops over a gate at Acadia National Park’s Echo Lake in Southwest Harbor last Wednesday along with his parents, Oliver, at left, and Ramona. The family was one of a handful of visitors who wouldn’t let the government shutdown stop them from entering it.
Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
They weren’t about to let a political fight in Congress get in the way of their plans to see Acadia National Park, which they visited on their honeymoon 34 years ago.
Riding on small motor scooters beneath a bright blue sky Sunday morning, the couple went around the barricades and past the sign declaring the park closed and joined what they estimated to be 1,000 other hikers and bicyclists heading out on the Park Loop Road toward Thunder Hole. Another couple from South Portland rode with them on scooters.
Their idyllic morning came to an abrupt end when they were surrounded by park rangers. The price for violating the park’s closure order: a $100 fine for each member of the party.
“I thought they were going to drive all of us to jail,” said Julie Gillies, a mental health therapist. She said the rangers got angry when she asked them why her group was singled out.
“It was the most embarrassing, intimidating thing ever,” she said. “I thought I was in a foreign country.”
Eugene Gillies said he didn’t see any signs warning people that they could be fined for entering the national park.
Rangers issued a handful citations over the weekend for alleged violations of the park closure order. The park has been closed since Oct. 1 because of the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years.
All of America’s 401 national park areas have gates blocking entrance roads. In all, 21,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed.
At Acadia National Park, which normally has a staff of 206 in the park, only 15 “essential” workers are now on duty, focused on security, said Chief Park Ranger Stuart West.
“Although the staff is limited, we are still being instructed to preserve the park,” he said. “We will be patrolling and will be citing those who are the most egregious violators.”
Besides the Gillies party on mopeds, rangers fined two people who were riding motorcycles and a couple who had been camping. Rangers are not fining hikers or bicyclists. Officials say they are fining people using motorized vehicles because those people pose the greatest safety risk.
All of the park’s roads – including the Park Loop Road and the route up Cadillac Mountain – are closed to traffic. Hiking trails and carriage roads also are closed.
West said there have been reports of people painting graffiti on barricades, moving barricades and damaging closure signs. “The public is clearly frustrated with the whole situation,” he said.
And not just in Maine. In California, vandals hit the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, cutting open locks to gates barring entry.
According to a written statement by Superintendent David Szymanski, “it appears that the gates were vandalized in response to the federal government shutdown.”
Rangers at parks around the country have urged citizens to abide by the closure, saying they don’t have the personnel to keep visitors happy or to safeguard the wildlife and other natural resources that they are responsible for protecting.
Rangers say recent incidents in Acadia show the risks posed when people enter the park during the closure.
On Saturday, a 69-year-old Portland woman was rescued after she fell and cut a knee while hiking on Flying Mountain. Unable to walk out, she called 911 around 11 a.m.
Only a crew of four rangers was on site when the call came in. They contacted local emergency responders for help. The woman was taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Late Monday afternoon, a 60-year-old man fell while hiking on the North Ridge trail on Dorr Mountain and injured an ankle.
The man, who was with his wife, couldn’t walk, so they dialed 911. A team of three park rangers and four members of the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue squad hiked up the steep mountain and helped him walk on crutches or supported him by his arms.
West said the man lives in Belgium. He won’t be fined.
“For now, no. It would only be adding insult to injury,” West said.
A dispatcher for Acadia National Park said the call for help was received around 4:25 p.m. Monday. The man was placed in an ambulance at 7:52 p.m. and taken to the hospital in Bar Harbor.
Tourists and vacationers aren’t the only ones who are angry about – and in some cases paying a price for – the park closure.
Business operators around the park have said the deadlock in Congress has cost them in lost customers and canceled reservations.
Acadia, which typically gets about 285,000 visitors in October, is closed to the public just as the fall foliage season begins, potentially hurting the economy in Bar Harbor and the rest of Mount Desert Island.
More cruise ship visitors visit the park in October than in any other month. Overall, October is the park’s fifth-busiest month.