Sunday, September 9, 2007

More Declines

Brook on the St. John River, NW Maine

More evidence of a drop in Park attendance. This time the analysis is in Maine.

"But the declines in arguably Maine’s three flagship parks — Acadia, Baxter and the Allagash — over the past decade are striking.

The number of people using the Allagash declined nearly 70 percent between 1999 and 2005. Much of that drop is attributable to fewer day users of the wilderness waterway — a situation that has sparked several recent political and legal battles. But the number of total paid camping days slid roughly 33 percent during that period.

Visitation at Acadia dropped 23 percent between 1996 and 2006.

And while the number of people making the trek into Baxter appears to be inching back up or plateauing, last year’s figures were still 25 percent lower than a decade ago."

Americans are busier than ever, experts said. Combine that with rising gas and travel prices and many families — especially those with young children — may be less willing to use scant vacation time and money in the woods or on the water far from home.

"Maine is not alone in dealing with the fact that society is so overbooked and going so fast that they are not getting out and visiting the special places that they used to," said Eliza Townsend, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.

Consumers also are bombarded with advertisements for theme parks, resorts and family-oriented destinations. State and federal park systems, on the other hand, often have little to no money for marketing.

Aging baby boomers who were once gung-ho about a week in the woods may find their definition of a relaxing vacation changing.

"People may be looking for a softer landing at the end of a day than what a lean-to or a tent site offers," said Baxter director Jensen Bissell, who openly refers to his wilderness park as being "on the extreme end" of the recreational spectrum. "A hot tub or a glass of wine is perceived to be a good thing."