Acadia National Park recorded more than 2.7 million visitors last year, the most in almost 20 years, with 88 percent occurring in the five-month period from June through October. If you’ve concluded from these stats that the rest of the year here is pretty much crowd-free and quiet, well, you’d be spot on.
Winter is a particularly good time to make your way to Acadia, especially so this week with the Acadia Winter Festival going on. The 10-day event is part of the park’s centennial, a year-long celebration to showcase the wealth of natural and community resources that make this place so unique and valuable to Maine and the nation.
From now through Tuesday, the festival is being held at the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park on Schoodic Peninsula near Winter Harbor. On Wednesday, the festival moves to Camp Beech Cliff on Mount Desert Island just outside Southwest Harbor, where the fun and games will continue through next Sunday.
“The Acadia Winter Festival is a chance for people of all ages to get out and celebrate winter,” said Debra Deal, the executive director of Camp Beech Cliff. “We’re hoping to get visitors to realize that Acadia and all its beauty is wide open in winter.”
The festival, now in its second year, is designed to be “bigger, bolder and broader” than last year, according to Deal. With more than 50 family-friendly events and activities, both outdoors and indoors, there’s surely something fun and entertaining for just about everyone.
A good look at the festival calendar reveals nature hikes, snowshoe excursions, a night owl walk, a stargazing adventure, a sunrise hike, ice fishing, dog sledding and a hike to track winter wildlife.
There’s a workshop on using your smart phone for outdoor photography, and another on winter camping and backcountry travel. Learn about Maine winter art and get a look at mixed media produced by local artists. And there’s an opportunity to meet and greet Acadia National Park’s new superintendent, Kevin Schneider.
This El Nino-influenced winter has sure presented its share of challenges for us fun-loving outdoorsy types, and your guess is as good as mine or perhaps any meteorologist as to what the forecast holds for the rest of the season. That said, the folks at the Acadia Winter Festival have got Old Man Winter’s idiosyncrasies covered.
“Most of the activities are outdoors so some will certainly be weather dependent,” Deal said. “We’ll tailor events to suit the snow or weather conditions. For example, if there’s no snow for snowshoeing, we’ll make it a hike or a foot race.”
Festival registration includes a badge that gets participants into most events ($7 for individuals, $20 for a family). Most activities are free, while some have a nominal charge in addition to the badge. Go to acadiawinterfestival.org for registration and event details.
“Acadia is so special, as beautiful now as it is in summer. We enjoy winter here and want to share our love for this place with others,” said Deal.
Outside of the festival, the park and Mount Desert Island is yours for the exploring, so bring your sightseeing glasses, hiking boots, cross-country skis, snowshoes and ice traction. Since you never know what you’ll find for conditions on the trails and carriage roads, come prepared for anything.
Winter access is plentiful. Most of the usual trailhead parking areas are open, as is the Park Loop Road (Ocean Drive) between Schooner Head Road and Otter Creek Road. Hardy campers can pitch their tents at Blackwoods Campground but will need to walk in from Route 3.
“Public interest is high for the Acadia Centennial,” said Stephanie Clement of Friends of Acadia, the nonprofit group that supports the park through conservation grants, volunteerism, education and outreach programs, and advocacy. “Make a visit now, then plan to return again in spring, summer and fall. For more information, go to www.acadiacentennial2016.org.