BAR HARBOR — Parade spectator-lined streets and crowds flocking to Acadia National Park weren’t just signs of tourists and locals celebrating the Fourth of July holiday — they also symbolized life returning to a sense of normalcy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to data from the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT), the counting station at the Thompson Island Bridge in Trenton saw a raw count of 158,642 vehicles from June 29 to July 5. That figure is up 38 percent from last year’s holiday, but down 4 percent from 2019, with the overcast weather Saturday and drizzly day on Sunday potentially playing a factor in vehicle travel.
Even with the rain, local businesses felt the uptick in visitors.
“I think overall, businesses did very well,” said Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Alf Anderson. The rain may have even helped attract customers to downtown businesses, he said, as people avoided venturing out into Acadia National Park.
Some lodging establishments reported cancellations from visitors who looked ahead to the weather forecast. Otherwise, “occupancy was quite high,” he said.
The Bar Harbor parade — which went on despite the rain Sunday — still attracted viewers.
“I couldn’t believe the number of people out with their umbrellas,” Anderson said. “It was really great to see.”
The town decided to postpone its fireworks show until Monday due to the stormy weather. While some visitors could not stay for the altered schedule, Anderson said the postponement did keep some visitors around who had not already planned to stay following the holiday.
“Everybody was just elated to have what we had this year,” he said. “[It was] so nice to get back to what felt like a normal July Fourth.”
Sunny skies Monday with temperatures in the 70s made for a busy day in Acadia National Park.
“We were super busy,” said Christie Anastasia, the park’s public affairs specialist. “It’s fantastic people came here to celebrate their Fourth of July holiday.”
The rain on July 4, along with the town of Bar Harbor’s decision to switch its fireworks show to Monday, likely pushed park-goers to disproportionately visit on Saturday and Monday. Visitors did still access the park on the stormy Sunday, and one woman was knocked down by a wave at Thunder Hole, Anastasia said.
Last Friday, Anastasia reported that the Jordan Pond parking lot filled by noon and two more staff members were called in to help with congestion. At the visitor center in Hulls Cove, “folks were double parking people in,” she said. “Anywhere they could fit their car.”
On Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., Anastasia reported that the right-hand lane on Ocean Drive was fully parked with 222 cars until Thunder Hole. Onward from Thunder Hole, another 125 cars were parked.
Reservations to the summit of Cadillac Mountain were sold out early July 5, she said. This is the first Independence Day that the park has had its reservation system in place to visit the sought-after summit.
“The beauty of that is that it worked,” Anastasia said. “We didn’t have to do any closures [at the mountain].” Visitors with a reservation knew ahead of time that they would be able to access the mountain and at what time, she said. Other areas of the park, including the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, did experience closures Monday to help manage congestion.
At the park’s entrance station near Sand Beach, “the entrance station was consistently backed up a quarter mile,” from noon to 2 p.m.
Anastasia noted that the park’s visitation numbers from May show a 47 percent increase from the five-year, pre-pandemic average.
“If we keep on this track … it’s very plausible we could go over 4 million visits” for the year.
“It’s great people are coming out,” Anastasia said, noting also that the increase in visitation calls for park officials to mitigate congestion to meet visitors’ expectations.
It was a busy weekend in Ellsworth as well, and the rainy weather may have helped attract customers.
“We actually had a really good weekend,” said Scott Kenny, owner of Jordan’s Snack Bar. He added that the poor weather may have prompted families to hit the popular seafood and burger joint instead of traveling to Acadia or having their typical barbecues at home. Additionally, the restaurant’s curbside pickup helped customers avoid standing out in the rain.
After being closed last year for the Fourth of July, the business decided to stay open for part of the day on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Monday. The hours gave employees the chance to spend part of the holiday with their families.
Kenny shared that in 2019, Jordan’s was open until 3 p.m. on July 4 and that business slowed down by the afternoon. This year, “we still had a lot of people pulling into the driveway,” after closing.
Like many local businesses, Jordan’s is feeling the employment crunch and is still hiring, mainly for kitchen staff. Kenny had to wait to open to his full schedule until June 16, when his high school and college-aged staff was available to start working.
While official numbers aren’t in yet, Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gretchen Wilson noticed a busy weekend.
“We had a lot of people in the office on that Thursday and Friday,” she said. “It seemed like downtown was also getting a lot of business.”
“The area is pretty much booked until September,” she said, with some places full until October. “I think the numbers are very, very strong.”