HAMPDEN, Maine — A 20th anniversary celebration for the Hampden Visitor Information Centers, which are located on Interstate 95 in both the northbound and southbound lanes, was held on Thursday at the northbound visitor center.
“This has changed a lot in 20 years,” Maine Tourism Association Chief Executive Officer Vaughn Stinson said of the visitor center. “Since then, we’ve got computers for the public and our staff, and a terrific art display” in the area where tourists can pick up numerous Maine brochures.
“We’ve had over 3 million visitors through the years” at the two Hampden locales, he said, noting that there are six others throughout the state.
Representatives from the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Office of Tourism, the Maine Restaurant Association, Maine Innkeepers Association, Maine Ski Association and Maine Snowmobile Association, and Sen. Joe Perry, D-Bangor, were among those on hand for the event.
David Cole, DOT commissioner, said Bangor is a gateway hub for Acadia National Park, the Katahdin region and other parts of the state, and that the Hampden visitor centers are important in educating people about what is going on in Maine.
“The visitor centers are critical to that,” he said.
All of the groups that had representatives at the celebration have brochures available at the centers, and many have websites, including the restaurant association, which used the event to announce a new website, feastonmaine.com.
“There are over 3,000 restaurants listed,” said Richard Grotton, president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association. “It lists both members and nonmembers.”
The site was developed because more and more Maine visitors and residents use electronic gadgets to find places to eat, he said. Since the site is new, Grotton is asking restaurant owners to check their listings to ensure the information is correct.
Greg Sweetser of the Maine Ski Association said its website, skimaine.com, is for Mainers and visitors. Those who use the website can find information and deals for skiing in Vacationland, he said.
Lois Simpson, manager for the Hampden Visitor Information Centers, has been working at them since they opened 20 years ago. She started as a travel counselor, then worked as an assistant manager, and became the manager 16 years ago.
“I have worked here literally since a month after it opened in August 1990,” Simpson said.
Pat Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said visitor center employees are a key to why tourists return to Maine year after year.
“It’s your gift — your authentic friendliness that keeps them coming back,” she said.