Hip, cool Rockland seeks spot in top 10 of travel magazine

Posted Feb. 16, 2009, at 10:35 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine’s lobster capital wants to be known as something else — one of America’s coolest small towns.

Voting is happening now on the Web site of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine for the honor of being listed among the nation’s top 10. Local boosters were pleased that Rockland already has beaten out more than 100 other places to be listed among the magazine’s 22 finalists.

“I’m excited,” said Capt. Brenda Thomas, who runs the schooner Isaac H. Evans with her husband, Brian, out of the city’s harbor.

Thomas nominated Rockland to the magazine and was pleased to hear that it had made the cut. “It is really a changing city. I’ve lived in the midcoast area since I was 9 and have watched Rockland transition from a fish-processing town to a more hip place to be.”

It’s also the only community in Maine and one of only three in New England to vie for the coveted “coolest small town” title. The fact that Rockland is technically a city doesn’t faze Budget Travel, which asks only that the communities have populations smaller than 10,000 people.

“It’s also got to be on the upswing,” according to the magazine’s Web site. “And cool doesn’t mean quaint. We want towns with an edge, so think avant-garde galleries, not country stores.”

Rockland fits the bill, say some who live here.

“What is so cool about Rockland is that we have such a diverse mix of people from different economic backgrounds and different cultural backgrounds,” said P.J. Walter, an owner of the LimeRock Inn, who was happy to tick off some of the city’s attributes.

“For a little coastal Maine town, we have some of the finest chefs in the state, the finest art galleries, the Lobster Festival and the North Atlantic Blues Festival.”

Something else Walter loves about his adopted city is that it has a year-round economy and still is true to its roots as a working town.

“I think that’s one thing that attracts people from away to Rockland,” he said. “We don’t have that glossy, Disneyfied image. It’s a real town.”

This year’s contest started last week, according to a Budget Travel editor, with towns nominated by their readers. The magazine already has fallen prey to some of the eclectic charm of midcoast Maine, as its readers chose Belfast to be one of the top 10 coolest small towns last year.

These types of national contests can give a nice bump to local tourism, officials say.

“It’s huge publicity for Rockland,” said Shari Closter, the interim director of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce. “This is really exciting — this is really cool.”

According to Closter, some of Rockland’s coolest aspects include its outdoor activities, the famous breakwater and lighthouse, and a burgeoning arts and restaurant scene.

“We really have it all,” she said.

For more information or to vote, visit the Web site http://www.budgettravel.com/bt-srv/coolestsmalltowns/.

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

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