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Fewer visitors make trip to Maine's parks

BANGOR -- The number of visitors to state parks in Maine declined this year, although park revenues have increased.

The park system took in $2.61 million from park pass fees in 2005, compared with $2.37 million in 2004, said David Soucy, director of the state parks and lands bureau.

''That's got to be due to the fee increase," Soucy said.

Entrance fees to state-owned ocean and freshwater beaches were raised $1 this year to offset the cost of hiring lifeguards, he said. Daily admission fees for state-owned beaches range from $2 per person to $4 per person, depending on the facility and the person, he said.

Up to 60 percent of park users, including children under 6, adults over 65 and members of school groups or organized programs for the disabled, can use the system for free. The number of documented visitors to the parks was 5.2 percent below last year's total, according to Soucy. He predicted that the total number of paid day users of state parks for 2005 will reach 2 million.

Figures for Baxter State Park, which is operated separately from the state park system, are not yet available, but Jean Hoekwater of the Baxter State Park Authority indicated that the 2005 numbers ''look slightly down from 2004," when there were 63,540 visitors.

The authority has no preliminary tallies for what the number of visitors for 2005 might be.

Acadia National Park also had no specific figures, but visitation numbers are expected to be down.

Soucy said higher gasoline prices and concerns over travel safety are believed to be contributing to declining visitation at publicly held wilderness parks nationwide, but other social forces are playing a part.

''Clearly, something else is going on," he said. ''People are busier these days, and it's harder for people to string extended vacations together."