CAMPOBELLO ISLAND, New Brunswick — There is no doubt the international park on this small island is a treasure shared by both Canada and the U.S.
But park officials have noticed a marked downturn recently in the number of visitors crossing from the U.S. to the Canadian island to enjoy the park, and they have hired a marketing administrator to check the trend.
The park was created on the land surrounding the cottages of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a place FDR called his “beloved island.” The 1,000-acre park is a joint memorial created in 1964 and governed by a board composed of representatives from both countries.
Along with FDR’s family cottage, other cottages and a visitors center, the park’s natural area contains extraordinary cobblestone beaches, sphagnum bogs, fields and forests.
Also on the island is Head Harbor Lighthouse, whale watching and deep-sea fishing cruises, and a working waterfront.
But when the U.S. implemented new border crossing requirements last year, visitors apparently thought crossing the border too difficult.
“Five years ago, we had 150,000 visitors,” Vern McKimmey, marketing administrator for Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission, said this week. “Last year we had 100,000.”
That still may seem like a large number of visitors, but for a self-sustaining park, any loss of visitors is a matter for concern.
McKimmey said some visitors stayed home because of the economy — although entrance to the park is free — but most stayed away because they thought it too complicated to cross the border.
McKimmey said he was hired recently “to make the border disappear.”
As the park’s first marketing director, McKimmey is attempting to link both sides of the border and the surrounding communities to create one visitor destination.
“Every time someone crosses that border, it is good for Washington County,” McKimmey said. “Every tourist we can bring to Campobello and the park is a tourist that shops, eats, fuels up and spends money in Maine. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
McKimmey said one of the park’s problems is identity. “The New Brunswickers think of this as an American park, and the Americans think this is a Canadian park, when in reality, it is both,” he said.
The park was established by treaty and is owned 50-50 by both countries, McKimmey said. It is governed by a board of 12; six commissioners and six alternates.
“But we have to overcome the perception that getting across the border is a problem,” McKimmey said. He said education will be key.
“We are updating our Web site,” he said, and making connections with many mainland tourist organizations, hoping to piggyback on the cruise ships from Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor, courting tour bus companies and working closely with chambers of commerce on both sides of the border.
McKimmey said a recent study revealed that the visitors to Roosevelt Campobello International Park range between 45 and 65 years old, are highly educated and are often just there for a day trip while visiting the Down East area.
McKimmey hopes to build on such popular Down East events as the Down East Birding Festival in the Lubec area, Atlanticade, which is a motorcycle rally in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, and the Tides Institute in Eastport’s One Bay: Two Countries art tour.
With a background in television marketing, McKimmey worked in Arkansas, Oklahoma, New York City and Cleveland before moving permanently to Lubec.
This summer, McKimmey’s television background will come in handy when PBS arrives at the park to film scenes at the Roosevelt Cottage for a historical series on Roosevelt that will air in 2013.
McKimmey also created a Facebook page for the park one month ago, which has 600 fans.
“We’re going to turn all of this into a positive for us,” he said.
McKimmey said travelers should know that crossing into Canada on the island is extremely simple. The guards will ask a few questions about citizenship and travel plans.
Coming back into the U.S., the new restrictions apply. Travelers must have either a passport card or passport.
McKimmey hopes that when the park reopens the weekend before Memorial Day, visitors will flock through the gates.
“We have to overcome the perception that getting across the border is a problem. It’s not,” he said.
For more information about Roosevelt Campobello International Park, go to www.fdr.net.