Acadia National Park is one of the 10 most popular national parks in the country, recording 3.5 million visits a year, many of whom come for a view from the highest peak on the North Atlantic seaboard. Unfortunately, the national park also has tens of millions of dollars in overdue repairs, issues that are affecting access to some popular spots. These repairs are part of a nearly $12 billion backlog in national park sites across the U.S.
To learn more and find out how the community around Acadia National Park is faring during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Pew Charitable Trusts checked in with Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Alf Anderson. He has worked at the chamber since 2015, and in 2019 was promoted to lead the organization. Bar Harbor is about 1.5 miles from Acadia, and the town’s businesses depend on tourism and a healthy park. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Acadia National Park?
A: If I were to choose just one thing, it would have to be the way Acadia is part of the community as a whole. Most of the park is located on Mount Desert Island, so each of the towns here have multiple access points to the park. You can drive, walk, or bike right from your front door to your favorite spot in Acadia in just a matter of minutes, which makes the whole park feel like home.
Q: How important is Acadia National Park to the Bar Harbor community and local businesses?
A: Bar Harbor’s economy is largely supported by tourism, and Acadia is the single biggest attraction for visitors. Guests come from near and far to enjoy the park, and our local business community thrives on this visitation. Bar Harbor is the epicenter of tourism activities outside the park, but there are other towns and villages nearby that thrive on serving visitors as well.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Bar Harbor?
A: Typically, the springtime is when seasonal businesses open their doors, summer workers start to fill the streets, and the town is filled with energy powered by the excitement of the busy season to come. This year, March and April have been much quieter. Seasonal businesses have remained closed, and some that were already open were forced to close or scale back their operations. Business owners are busy pivoting and planning to serve the public in new and safer ways so when visitors do come back, they feel safe visiting.
Q: Acadia has tens of millions of dollars of repair needs, with roads and buildings requiring the most work. What have you noticed about the deferred maintenance there?
A: Thankfully, the crews at Acadia do an amazing job keeping the park beautiful for visitors, and it isn’t always clear what areas may not be addressed by the backlog of maintenance projects. I do know, from talking with the leadership team at Acadia, that there are “back of house” facilities in dire need of repair or replacement. The staff members absolutely make the best of the situation, but it would be great to know that they were getting the resources they need to keep all aspects of Acadia beautiful.
Q: Why do you think Congress needs to invest in fixing the national parks?
A: Visitation to our national parks has steadily increased over the years. Providing visitors an excellent experience is key to maintaining this growth. Fixing our parks is just one way to continue delivering memorable experiences. A big part of those experiences comes from the gateway communities and the businesses just outside the national parks. By providing funds to address the deferred maintenance within our parks, Congress would be indirectly boosting the national economy and supporting the small business communities that serve the millions of visitors to our parks.
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