PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When her children took an interest in skiing and snowboarding during last month’s Vancouver Olympics, Marie Anderson of Portland decided to meld a trip to visit family with a stop at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Cross Country Junior Olympics.
“We have family in the area, so we thought we could spend some time watching the competition,” Anderson, flanked by her children Connor, 4, and Danny, 2, said in Presque Isle earlier this week. “I figured we’d just check into a hotel and head out to the Nordic Heritage Center. Now I know I should have planned it out a little better.”
Planning for such a trip was necessary this week, as vacant hotel rooms in the city are practically nonexistent. With an estimated crowd of 1,000 athletes, coaches, parents and fans in the city for the Junior Olympics, those who have come to the city at the last minute have found themselves having to drive as far away as Ashland, about 20 miles, to find a place to stay.
The Junior Olympics, which began March 7 and wrap up on March 13, are taking place at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.
Along with the large crowds, the event also has brought an infusion of cash to the city.
At the Hampton Inn Presque Isle, the four-story, 93-room inn is “completely full,” sales manager Nan Carmichael said Thursday afternoon. The hotel, which is less than a year old, is on Main Street.
“We have been full all week, and I have heard that every hotel in the city is full,” she said. “We are hosting two teams, and the reservations were made way in advance, as far back as last August.”
The same was true for the Northeastland Hotel on Main Street, where an employee said that every room at the two-story facility was occupied Thursday.
Restaurants also are benefiting from the influx of visitors, serving more diners and making more money now that the city has grown by 1,000 people.
At Governor’s Restaurant and Bakery, Sherry Sullivan, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Tony, said that her employees were busy this week.
“The restaurant has been busy and we are actually doing catering for the athletes and others at the Nordic Heritage Center,” she explained. “We have met and fed a lot of new people.”
Sullivan said athletes and their parents have been coming into the restaurant for meals.
“We’ve met people from Wyoming, Alaska and other places,” she said. “We have also heard from people who had to stay in Ashland because they could not find places to stay in Presque Isle. It has been great to meet all of these different people.”
A banner welcoming the athletes is strung up along Main Street, and several businesses have signs out welcoming visitors and wishing them luck.
Visitors to the city also were flocking to Cafe Sorpreso, another Main Street restaurant that is open for lunch and dinner.
“We have been seeing much more business with the event going on,” Daniel Williams, a cafe employee, said Thursday afternoon. “We actually have a big crowd of athletes sitting here right now. We have been full most every night, so it has been a very positive thing.”
As for Marie Anderson and her children, they ended up bunking with family members in the Caribou area. Anderson took her children to watch the classic sprint competition on Monday. While there, all three secured cowbells to ring as the sprinters competed, and they dined at Bonanza, another Main Street restaurant, before heading back to the venue in the late afternoon.
Anderson said that she “couldn’t believe” the talent of the athletes or the quality of the trails at the Nordic Heritage Center.
“They are all so talented, and the Nordic Heritage Center is such a great facility,” she said. “We come up here to visit at least three or four times a year, and as the boys get older, I think they will want to try skiing or snowboarding. I can see us spending more time at the [Nordic Heritage Center] venue in the future.”