VAN BUREN, Maine — Now that the St. John Valley Cultural Byway — also known as La Route Culturelle de la Vallee St-Jean — was formally dedicated in a small ceremony on Sept. 9 at the historic Acadian Village in Van Buren, word is getting out about what northern Maine has to offer.
“[The new cultural byway] is giving away our secret — no one really knew just what we had to offer, but now the word is out,” said Dan LaPointe, president of the Maine Acadian Heritage Council.
“It’s the French Acadian culture that makes this area unique,” said Fred Michaud, Maine Department of Transportation coordinator of scenic byways who himself has Acadian roots.
The St. John Valley Cultural Byway is No. 13 on the list of Maine’s Scenic Byways.
“This byway will allow us to showcase our rich culture to the world and help attract visitors to the area. This will help promote economic development in the region as well as an increased understanding of our cultural diversity and history,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud wrote in a statement for the dedication. “I am particularly excited that this will further promote and celebrate the region on a grander scale when the St. John Valley region, along with the Temiscouata region of Quebec and northwestern New Brunswick, hosts the 2014 World Acadian Congress.”
“This is an important piece for the valley,” agreed Anne Roy, president of the Van Buren Historical Society and director of the Acadian Village. “It will open the area up to a whole new tourist group.”
Roy said some visitors touring the 92 miles of the St. John Valley Cultural Byway may be “surprised to find that we can speak French.” From Fort Kent to Caribou, it’s commonplace to hear neighbors speaking fluent French, particularly in the 40-and-up crowd, Roy said.
With the impending 2014 World Acadian Congress coming to the region, Acadian culture has found its way into the limelight, which could spark a younger generation of Acadians to become more interested and involved.
“We’re hoping it awakens a pride for their heritage and a desire to learn the French language,” Roy said.