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Advocacy Group Calls For Spending Boost From State Government To Maine's Rural Communities
08/12/2010 05:32 PM ET   Reported By: Josie Huang

Maine is known as Vacationland, and the southern and mid-coast regions have no shortage of tourists. But a new report from a progressive advocacy group says that much more could be done to boost tourism in the state's more rural, counties.

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Advocacy Group Calls For Spending Boost From State Listen

The Maine Center for Economic Policy recommends investing $100 million over 5 years to beautify downtowns, expand high-speed internet access and improve roads.

"One of the things that would really help is a better US 1," said Jett Peterson. He runs the Weston House, a bed and breakfast in Eastport, in Washington County.

"From Machias to Eastport, it's pretty dismal in spots. You know, there's not even the white line marking," said Peterson.

" I have to agree. That's the kind of thing that's not good for a destination reputation for people who are going to be driving long distances," said Bowdoin College professor David Vail. He authored the report for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

He says that Maine's more remote counties -- such as Washington, Pisqataquis and Franklin -- have to work hard to convince tourists they are worth the trip. That's even more of a challenge considering today's tourists are looking for the whole package.

"For the past five, or so years, we've been calling those experiential tourists," vail said. "They're people who are certainly interested in outdoor recrecational activities but they also have a strong interest and, really a demand for destinations that include arts, culture and heritage attractions and certainly good dining, shopping and lodging opportunities."

Vail says Portland is a prime example of an experiential destination. But he says communities such as Farmington in Franklin County, for example, have a lot going for them, including a charming downtown and university.

"Farmington has the potential to be very attractive gateway to all the natural attractions in the Sugarloaf, Rangley, Flagstaff regions," said Vail.

This, of course, takes money, money that Vail suggests could be collected mostly through issuing new bonds, or using existing bond money. But legislative leaders such as House Speaker Hannah Pingree (D-North Haven) are balking at the price tag.

"The reality is the next legislature will continue to be dealing with this recession, will have a budget gap and will have a lot of competing project for state infrastracture funds," Pingree said.

She says, though, rural regions could stand to benefit as state leaders pursue priorities such as better roads, and expanding high-speed Internet.

Pingree agrees that promoting tourism in more remote counties is an important goal, and does not detract from tourist hotbeds like the islands in the midcoast region she represents.

"The whole state realizes that there are part of Maine that have been left behind and they need industries that are sustainable and vialble," said Pingree. "Figuring out how to broaden the number of visitors who come to places like Acadia and getting them to go to places like the northern part of the state or the eastern part of the state, I think it's something that people could support. It's not about competing for the same people or the same dollars."

The report says state money is not the only answer. Vail points to a program underway that trains tourism workers how to do their jobs better. It's getting substantial funding from the federal government and a philanthropic group.

Short of getting more financial help from the outside, towns such as Eastport are doing what they can on their own to sell themselves to visitors.

B&B owner Jett Peterson is chairing this year's Salmon Festival over Labor Day weekend. She says visitors can go kayaking by day, and make it back for a salmon dinner.

"We also have a 5-K run and we're doing a mackerel day derby this year over the breakwater pier so that's a real big deal in August. Mackerel are so easy to catch," said Vail.

Peterson says it's perfect for experiential tourists -- if they'll just drive north of Bar Harbor.



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