UPDATE 2/14/2016: Revised 2015 park statistics show 2.8 million visitors to Acadia, most since 1995. Change primarily a result of more accurate count of Schoodic visitors. Link to final numbers here.
Ahead of its Centennial this year, Acadia National Park in 2015 attracted the most visitors in almost 20 years, spurred by another record number of visitors for the month of October.
A combination of warmer than usual weather, increased cruise ship traffic, national publicity from 2014, and a stronger economy may have all contributed to the greater numbers for last year, according to Charlie Jacobi, natural resource specialist for Acadia National Park.
Park visitation for 2015 totaled 2.756 million, up 7.5% from 2014, most since 2.760 million in 1997, according to National Park Service visitor use statistics. It’s the first time since 1997 that visitation broke 2.7 million at Acadia.
The National Park System as a whole, which includes 409 parks, historic sites and monuments, also drew a record number of visitors in 2015. The NPS reported 305.8 million visitors, up 4.45 percent from 2014’s then record of 292.8 milion.
Individual parks also set visitation records, according to a Dec. 3 release from the NPS. Yellowstone in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, for example, drew 4.097 million in 2015, up nearly 17 percent, according to final NPS statistics for 2015. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado attracted 4.155 million in 2015, up 21 percent, the federal statistics said.
Acadia National Park visitors set October record last year
October alone in Acadia saw 335,000 visitors, up 6.7% over that same month in 2014, setting a record for the month, according to federal statistics.
For September and October, it may have been the weather and specifically climate change that drove the numbers of Acadia National Park visitors, Jacobi said.
“A recent study showed a strong relationship between temperature and visitation to the national parks,” Jacobi said in an email.
He did say he had not looked specifically at monthly average temps for September and October compared to previous years.
According to a June study by the U.S. National Park Service, “Protected Area Tourism in a Changing Climate: Will Visitation at US National Parks Warm Up or Overheat?”, visitation for the entire park system generally increased with increasing average monthly temperatures.
“Researchers considered the relationship between historical long-term temperature averages and park visitation numbers, identified parks where visits were influenced by temperature, and used these data and projected greenhouse gas concentrations to estimate future park visitation,” said an article on the study on NOAA’s Climate.gov. “Overall, warming temperatures are projected to increase total annual visits to most parks.”
National Park Service study examines potential effect of climate change on number of visitors to Acadia and across all parks. Data for Acadia projects 15 to 50 percent higher visitation between 2041 and 2060, compared with 1979-2013 numbers, particularly during “shoulder” seasons. Top map shows scenario with low level of greenhouse gas emissions; bottom map, high level. (Image courtesy of NOAA Climate.gov, based on NPS data)
The summer months last year showed strong visitation for Acadia. September totaled 462,742, up 10.7 percent from September of 2014; August, 658,253, up 3.1 percent; July, 592,137, up 5.5 percent and June, 354,035, up 4.5 percent.
The park’s fare-free Island Explorer bus also broke records last year, with more than 533,000 passengers tallied, up 6 percent from 2014.
Transportation planning process to help ease Acadia National Park crowds
The increase in Acadia National Park visitors is straining services, creating heavy traffic at peak times, and causing strong overflows at parking lots for trails and the carriage roads.
As a result, park officials last year launched a long-range transportation planning process, looking at everything from how to manage traffic hot spots like the top of Cadillac and the Park Loop Road, to expanding ferry service to the less-crowded Schoodic Peninsula section of the park, to more car-free days.
In 2014, Acadia was selected America’s favorite place by viewers of “Good Morning America” and the No. 1 National Park by readers of USA Today.
Acadia, which became a national monument in 1916, will be celebrating its Centennial this year, so maybe new visitor records are on the horizon. The National Park Service was also created in 1916 and will be marking its 100th birthday this year.
The NPS centennial is expected to extend the visitation surge, bringing even more people to America’s parks, the NPS release said.