Local help key to success of Aroostook events

Posted Oct. 07, 2010, at 11:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:50 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Two major events and a marketing project in the works could mean an economic windfall for northern Maine.

Organizers behind the 2011 World Cup Biathlon competition in Fort Kent, the 2014 World Acadian Congress and the ongoing America’s First Mile marketing project told residents at a public forum Wednesday night that the success of such events depends upon local involvement.

Fifty thousand visitors are expected to visit what has been dubbed the Acadia of Lands and Forest, an area combining Maine’s St. John Valley with northwestern New Brunswick and Temiscouata, Quebec.

“These 50,000 visitors are coming,” Don Levesque, chairman of the congress’s Maine coordinating committee, told about 75 residents at the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Fox Auditorium. “You don’t want your town to be left out.”

Organizers behind the event envision marketing the area as a regional tourist destination, similar to the marketing of the White Mountains of New Hampshire or the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.

The World Acadian Congress is held every five years over a three-week period in August.

In 2014, the St. John Valley will hold major celebrations associated with Acadian National Feast Day on Aug. 15, Levesque said.

Across the region, there will be more than 300 cultural, academic, historical, theatrical and sporting events.

Anyone who wants to volunteer for the planning of the 2014 World Acadian Congress may contact the World Acadian Congress Organizational Committee by calling 728-6826 or e-mailing maineacadian@hotmail.com.

Levesque said the three-week celebration is expected to pump between $30 million and $50 million into the region while creating up to 30 jobs.

“It’s exciting and mind-boggling,” Levesque said, adding that the organizers behind the 2014 World Acadian Congress want everyone involved.

“If you live in the region the Acadia of the Lands and Forests, for all practical purposes, you are an Acadian for the next couple of years,” he said.

Dozens of volunteers are already involved with the planning for the congress with the deadline for a final schedule set for late 2011.

Before the Acadians arrive in 2014, an international crowd of athletes and spectators will descend on Fort Kent for the 2011 World Cup Biathlon races at the 10th Mountain Lodge. The biathlon will be held Feb. 10-13.

The week before that, most of the same athletes will compete in a World Cup series at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.

“The International Biathlon Union representatives were at the 10th Mountain last week for a successful site visit,” event chairwoman Nancy Thibodeau said. “The only thing they talked about was what we can do for the next World Cup event after 2011.”

Fort Kent was host to a World Cup race in 2004, and Thibodeau said the town’s reputation is well known among the international athletes.

“We have been described as a small town that swept them off their feet,” Thibodeau said.

To build on that success, she said, 400 volunteers are needed to pull off three days of races and the associated cultural events planned for the downtown area.

“We expect 5,000 to 10,000 spectators daily with national and international exposure,” Thibodeau said.

Up to 60 million viewers will watch the races on each of the three competition days on 33 European television stations.

Housing the hundreds of athletes, coaches, journalists and officials expected to attend the event remains a challenge, Thibodeau said, and she encourages anyone with a room or house to rent to contact housing coordinator Ann Robichaud at 834-3591.

Anyone wanting to volunteer may obtain an application form through the 10th Mountain website at www.10thmtskiclub.org.

Among the plans to market the area for the long term is the America’s First Mile project, which incorporates Fort Kent’s location at the start of U.S. Route 1. The highway ends 2,446 miles later in Key West, Fla.

Thanks to a $72,000 grant from the state, organizers behind the project are planning a monument and possible park area near Fort Kent’s international bridge to mark the start of Route 1.

The concept also will promote tourism possibilities in the area, and local businesses are encouraged to use the America’s First Mile logo on letterheads and promotional items.

“This is a branding concept for the area,” said George Dumond, America’s First Mile committee chairman. “We want to use this to promote the tourism in this area.”

Forums on the Acadian World Congress also are scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at Van Buren District Secondary School and 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Frenchville Community Center.

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