Warm winter results in early roads closure in Acadia

carroads

Warm weather and soft ground prompted Acadia National Park to close the park’s carriage roads on Feb. 29, which is believed to be the earliest such seasonal closure date in the past several years. Bill Trotter|BDN

Winter is over.

Yes, northern Maine is getting another snowstorm and we likely will have some cold days and probably more snow over the next month or so along the coast. Still, south of Bangor, there’s little doubt we’ve moved into a time of year when we no longer have to keep a snow shovel in the car, the tall boots by the front door and a bucket of rock salt just outside.

Galanthus sprouts are coming up in my backyard. The sun is setting after 5 p.m., and less than two weeks from now the clocks will spring forward when daylight savings starts, extending the evening daylight by another hour. This past month, with daytime temperatures frequently reaching into the 40s and 50s, I’ve worn my lightweight jacket more than my heavy winter coat.

And if none of that convinces you spring has begun, surely this will: the carriage roads have been closed in Acadia National Park.

It’s a step the park takes every year for a few weeks when the snowmelt and accompanying rains soak the gravel carriage roads to the point that they become softer than a sofa cushion. Bikers, horses and even hikers are banned from the roads to prevent deep ruts and footprints from causing damage and morphing into a muddy morass that lasts well into summer.

What’s unusual about this year is the timing of the closure. The announcement was made on Monday, Feb. 29. In all the years I’ve been covering Acadia as a reporter, I’ve never known the roads to be closed due to soft conditions in February (yes, I know it is a Leap Year, but Monday still was officially February).

It’s easy to compare, or rather contrast, this winter to the one we had a year ago, when a steady diet of heavy snowstorms and frigid temperatures buried Maine — especially Downeast Maine — under several feet of snow that seemed to linger for months. In 2015, the spring thaw that finally broke winter’s grip didn’t close the carriage roads until April 22.

But the comparison that jumps out at me even more is with the spring of 2012. That is when unusually warm springtime weather resulted in 70-degree days in Maine in March. That year, the spring thaw closed carriage roads on March 9.

Going back through my email inbox and Acadia’s press release archives, until this year I can’t find any springtime carriage road closure date in the past decade that preceded March 9 (though I can’t find when the closures occurred in 2011 or 2006).

In 2010, 2012 and 2013 the closures all occurred in the second week of March. From 2007 through 2009 the roads were closed in the last days of March or the first week of April. In 2014, the roads were closed on April 9.

I don’t mind that I’ve had to shovel a lot less snow this winter and have handed fewer checks over to our plowman (and spent less on heating fuel), but not all Mainers benefit from or even like relatively balmy weather. Ski resorts have had a tough time of it, as have northern Maine towns that draw snowmobilers in the winter. Mild temperatures also affect loggers who rely on frozen ground for moving heavy equipment through the forests.

But it is the weather we might have over the next couple of months, as opposed to the past 12 weeks, that I find myself thinking about. As a fisheries reporter, the springs of 2012 and 2013 are hard to forget.

Prior to 2014, there was no catch limit on elvers and the warm springs in those years meant that the young American eels were swimming upstream in large numbers from the outset of the season, when usually it takes several weeks for the springtime fishery to get going. In each of those years, skyrocketing demand and an ample supply enabled some elver fishermen to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for 10 weeks of hard work but caused major management and law enforcement headaches for fisheries officials.

As good as it was for the state’s elver fishermen, the warm springs of 2012 and 2013 spelled near-disaster for Maine lobstermen. They, too, hauled in large numbers of their target species — but at a time of year when consumer demand is low and when the seasonal distribution chain is ill-equipped to handle large catch volumes.

The price of lobster plummeted in 2012, causing discord in Maine fishing ports and in Atlantic Canada, where fishermen in New Brunswick blockaded processing plants from receiving shipments of bargain-priced lobster from Maine. The experience spurred a movement within the industry to try to avoid future similar gluts of landed lobster.

So what will the spring of 2016 be like? It’s too soon to tell. It could be great for people who want to get outside for a hike or to start their gardens early. For those who earn their living from the sea, if thermometer readings continue to be higher than usual, it could be another weird year.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter keeps track of how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coast shape the lives, lifestyles and livelihoods of coastal Maine residents and visitors. A resident of Ellsworth, Bill covers Acadia National Park, Hancock County, fisheries, marine-related topics and more for the BDN. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.