With downtown Bar Harbor and the most popular spots in Acadia National Park full to bursting in the high season, the Schoodic region and destinations farther Downeast are poised for tourism growth. The Schoodic portion of Acadia, including the Schoodic Woods campground, and amenities such as ferry service to Mount Desert Island are already attracting visitors who want to experience Maine’s coast without the crowds.
According to data provided by the National Park Service, there were 213,931 visitors to Schoodic through August 2018, an increase of 3.3 percent from 2017. The Schoodic Woods Campground also saw an uptick in visitation last year, including an 8 percent increase in RV visitors and a 33.1 percent increase in group camping.
Now is the time to plan for continued growth. Bar Harbor in recent years has grappled with too much of an ostensibly good thing. Traffic congestion, parking headaches and tensions over short-term rentals cutting into year-round housing stock are among the issues. Seasonal rentals have proven to be a particularly thorny problem to address at this stage when many property owners have based their purchases on the assumption that they will be able to rent the property as they see fit. Meanwhile, many working families are being priced out of the MDI property and rental markets. Others make it work by renting out their own properties short-term.
Other, less-trafficked coastal communities would be wise to plan ahead for busier days. This could mean identifying properties for potential future use as parking lots or calculating in increased traffic when planning road projects. It should also mean having thoughtful discussions about housing affordability, availability and how best to handle short-term rentals. Communities should carefully weigh how best to protect the things that make coastal Maine so special and such a desirable place to visit.
Tourism dollars help fuel our local economy, but they are highly seasonal. It takes more to power year-round communities. Beyond its natural beauty, two of Maine’s greatest assets are its people and its working waterfront. Smart planning will protect traditional livelihoods and the integrity of our small towns. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.