MONSON, Maine — Taking a lead in the state, Piscataquis County officials have installed interpretive signs at several historic locations to show tourists there is more to Maine than “lobsters and lighthouses.”
Local, county and state officials gathered Monday to celebrate a new sign at the Appalachian Trailhead off Route 15 in Monson, one of six interpretive signs now in place thanks to the Piscataquis County Tourism Initiative Subcommittee of the Piscataquis County Tourism Development Authority. The authority is a committee of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.
“This is really a red-letter day for us. We’ve been working for a number of years now to follow up on the governor’s recommendation of nature tourism,” Gerry Whiting of the subcommittee said Monday at the event. Whiting was joined by fellow subcommittee members Donna Moreland Fichtner, Terry Knowles and Scott Snell.
The council took to heart the findings of a study commissioned in 2004 by Gov. John Baldacci and has followed up on the recommendation to identify natural tourism sites and mark them with directional and interpretive signs, according to Whiting. One of study’s messages was that Maine could do more to tap into its natural resources to promote and expand tourism opportunities.
Citing an article from the business journal Mainebiz, Whiting pointed out that employment in leisure and hospitality businesses has increased 15 percent since 1997. To move tourists inland to make the area a world-class, year-round destination, Mainebiz suggests it will take entrepreneurial spirit, infrastructure improvements and work force development, he said. “That’s what this subcommittee has been all about and what these signs that you’re seeing here today, that we’re really commemorating, is all about,” Whiting said.
In addition to the Appalachian Trailhead sign, the subcommittee has installed colorful, sturdy interpretive signs at Little Moose Township, the site of the first fire tower in the nation; the Katahdin steamboat on Moosehead Lake; Katahdin Iron Works; Peaks-Kenny State Park in Sebec; and the Moosehead Marine Museum. A sign at Gulf Hagas is expected to be installed today, and a sign for Kineo Dock will be installed next spring. Six additional historic locations have been identified where signs will be installed when additional funding has been obtained.
The majority of the funds for the eight signs was obtained from Piscataquis County and the Maine Office of Tourism.
Phil Savignano of the Maine Office of Tourism told participants Monday that the whole effort will give tourists a better experience in Maine.
“This has been a long process for all of us — you guys have a head start on it,” he said of the interpretive signs. Visitors to the region will see the signs along the roadsides and they will stop and learn more about the places that link the state together, he said.
“One of the really neat things about this particular site and what you’re seeing for infrastructure is it’s connected to community, and that community here is Monson,” Whiting said of the trailhead.
Monson Town Manager Julie Anderson said she had never really realized the economic impact from the hiking population until she and her husband purchased the Monson General Store. “Thank you for recognizing the importance of this Appalachian Trailhead,” she said.
“This is a premier tourist location that everyone drives by every day without even thinking in those terms,” Piscataquis County Commissioner Tom Lizotte said Monday. “Where else in the state of Maine does the Appalachian Trail cross one of the major highways” in the state? “For two years, it’s been a forgotten piece of land here and now it’s finally getting the attention it deserves, and the county played a very small part in that by providing some funding.”
Several others were thanked for their support, including Plum Creek, the Quimby Foundation, L.L. Bean, the Davis Conservation Foundation and Fields Pond Foundation. Also thanked was Sheila Grant, the council’s former marketing specialist, who earlier had helped with the county effort, and Roger Merchant of the Univer-sity of Maine Cooperative Extension service.
That county effort was complemented Monday by Rep. Pete Johnson of Greenville. Johnson said the county suffers from severe economic conditions, and a lack of infrastructure support for its highways and communication systems, so any effort that encourages economic prosperity like the interpretive signs should be lauded.
“As we are successful in making these signs and things available to tourists who come here, perhaps more of them will come here and perhaps their experiences will be better,” Johnson said.