Bar Harbor Dislikes Sequester Ripple Effect
Editor's Note: The Maine Broadcasting Network broadcast the following story last week. Click here to listen to a 3-minute, 21-second audio version of the story.
Last week, inn keepers, restauranteurs and other members of the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce sat down with top officials at Acadia National Park to clear the air.
Local business leaders said the tourism season is off to a slow start, due in part, to the park's decision to delay opening up the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Acadia officials said budget cuts under sequestration left them no choice. But tourism-dependent businesses said the park should have consulted with them more closely about ways the road could have been opened sooner.
If you're coming to the Bar Harbor area to explore Acadia National Park, few places are as nice to stay in as the Bar Harbor Inn. Standing on a pier in front of the inn that extends out into Frenchmen Bay, one can see lobster boats, fishing boats, a four-masted schooner. And the Bar Harbor Inn is a beautiful old stone and gray-shingled house that dates back to the late 1800s. The inn has come to depend on the National Park Service opening all of the roads in Acadia National Park in mid-April because people, when they come here, they want to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.
"They really want to go there, take a picture, enjoy the mountain, the views," said Fred Link, General Manager of the Bar Harbor Inn.
He said early season guests who booked rooms in advance were upset to learn that the road to the top of Cadillac was closed.
"I mean a lot of them were very disappointed," said Link. "They came for two or three nights and what a lot of our guests ended up doing was just staying staying for the one night. They decided to go down to southern Maine and maybe spend a night or two there before going home."
According to the most recent estimates nearly 280 million visits to national parks across the country generated almost $13 billion in revenue in gateway communities, including $186-million in the region surrounding Acadia.
"Acadia is really, for us, what sets us apart from other Maine destinations," said Chris Fogg, who heads the Bar Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce.
He said sequestration-related cuts at the park have left tourism-dependent businesses in the region uncertain about what the future may hold.
"I think what other communities maybe did better than we did was prepare and meet with the national park management to say, How is this going to impact all of us and what can we do, working together, moving forward, to mitigate some of the impacts of it?" Fogg said.
When officials at Yellowstone National Park announced they would have to wait two weeks to open two entrances blocked by snow, officials in Cody and Jackson, Wyoming worried they could lose as much as four million dollars in hotel revenue. So city officials worked with the park and local chambers of commerce to raise money to open the entrances on time.
"We can't wait, in 2014, and find out the park is opening a month late again," said Nancy Tibbets, who runs the Bar Harbor Quality Inn.
She recently attended a meeting where local business leaders' frustration with Acadia administrators boiled over.
"We went to that meeting with, 'This is your community and we want to work with you,"' said Tibbets. "If it's a money issue, there's some ways we can fundraise. We know this is coming. It's not going to go away."
Tibbets said park officials were noncommittal about a joint fundraising effort. But Len Bobinchock, Acadia's Deputy Superintendent, said the park has to approach such ventures cautiously.
"We have to be careful because we're a federal agency and there are restrictions on us going around and asking for funding, private donations," Bobinchock said.
According to Bobinchock, the park is committed to doing everything in its power to open on time next spring, and Officials are already working on a budget to figure out how much it would cost.