POLL QUESTION

Warm weather may lead to marquee summer for tourism-related businesses

People enjoy a sunny day on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park on Monday. The unusally warm weather attracted a large number of tourists to the usual sightseeing and vacation spots in Maine.
Gabor Degre | BDN
People enjoy a sunny day on Sand Beach in Acadia National Park on Monday. The unusally warm weather attracted a large number of tourists to the usual sightseeing and vacation spots in Maine.
Posted Oct. 10, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 11, 2011, at 5:15 a.m.

A wave of unseasonably warm weather currently bathing the state of Maine has benefited summer and fall seasonal businesses alike, with beaches, golf courses and apple growers among those seeing upticks in customers over the balmy Columbus Day weekend.

Some even feel the good spirits that accompanied the summerlike weather will benefit business in the days after the temperatures cool off again.

“It was very busy compared to any other October day,” said Brian Murray, manager of Popham Beach State Park of the beach’s Sunday traffic. “I think people got such a good feeling from being outside, it wouldn’t have to hit 80 degrees again [for traffic to be heavy at the beach]. Even if it’s just sunny for a while.”

In Bar Harbor, local hotels were filled to capacity over the holiday weekend, according to local Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Fogg. He said Columbus Day is traditionally a busy time for Bar Harbor, but that the summerlike conditions this weekend made it especially so.

“We were sold out for much of the weekend,” Fogg said Monday afternoon. “We didn’t have any rooms available. We were referring people [to hotels] as far away as Bucksport and further south.”

The near-peak fall foliage and the busy cruise ship season has only added to the amount of tourist business this past week in Bar Harbor, according to Fogg. Despite some cruise ship cancellations earlier this summer because of foul weather, Bar Harbor could break the record for cruise ship visits it set last year, when it had 107 between late April and early November.

“We’re averaging over the rest of October about a ship a day,” Fogg said. “This is one of the busiest cruise ship seasons we’ve ever had, especially with the weather.”

At Reid State Park in Georgetown, park manager Samantha Wilkinson said the Griffith’s Head parking lot was full Sunday, and the place continued to be “incredibly busy” Monday.

“We saw almost 1,000 people on Sunday,” Wilkinson said. “People are swimming. When you look down the beach, outside of the lack of lifeguard stands, [Sunday] could have been any day in July.”

Temperatures hit a record-breaking 80 degrees in Bangor on Saturday and tied the historical hottest in Portland at 81 that same day. On Sunday in Portland, the mercury crept up to 85 degrees and set a new standard for heat on Oct. 9. The temperature on Monday hit 81 degrees at the Portland International Jetport, tying the old record for the date set back in 1949.

At the opposite end of Maine’s coastline, close to the Canadian border, the warm weather brought out both visitors and happy attitudes at St. Croix Island International Historic Site in Calais. Park Ranger Meg Scheid said that attendance over the weekend was up 90 percent over last year, but the biggest difference, she said, was in how people felt.

“Everyone was smiling,” she said. “They were happy and cheerful. They want to linger and ask questions. They really wanted to take the time to enjoy the moment.”

The shorts-and-T-shirt weather has motivated some to hit the links.

“The last two days and today we’ve been considerably busier than normal,” said Tony Decker, assistant golf professional at The Woodlands Golf Club in Falmouth on Monday.

Lucille Shantrill, who works at the pro shop at the South Portland Municipal Golf Course, said Sunday was almost too hot for golfers in her neck of the woods.

“Today, we’re really busy,” she said Monday. “We have morning scrambles, and after those ended Sunday we were actually pretty quiet. I think everybody went to the beach.”

The phenomenal weather also contributed to the influx of visitors to the Moosehead Lake region, which provided an extra boost to some businesses, Bob Hamer, executive director of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, said Monday.

What also has helped is the varied peaking of the foliage in the region. “It’s a bizarre year in terms of the foliage,” Hamer said. The leaves are not consistent this year, he noted. There’s clusters of trees with colored leaves next to clumps of trees that are either just beginning to change or have not yet started turning yet, all within a hundred yards of one another, he said.

“While the color is not necessarily the most spectacular in years because not all of the trees have turned, it’s actually extending our season a little bit,” Hamer said. By this time of year, Hamer said he would not normally be talking about the colorful foliage.

For many of the chamber’s members, this summer has been an excellent one, especially for high-end businesses such as the Greenville Inn, according to Hamer. In contrast, those businesses that cater to blue-collar workers found business down as much as 20 percent, he said. Those businesses found their traditional customers taking shorter vacations than typical.

It’s not just the traditional summer escapes that received the shot in the arm of traffic over the warm weekend. Seasonal fall activities also flourished.

Margaret Priest said the Columbus Day weekend was as good for apple pickers as any she has seen in her 31 years working at Orchard Hill Farm in Cumberland.

Brenda Seekins, director of the Sebasticook Valley Chamber of Commerce, saw a rise in activity over the warm holiday weekend.

“It was bumper to bumper on Friday,” she said. “I’m sure the long weekend and the promise of good weather helped with that.”

Seekins said “The Triangle,” where Routes 2, 7 and 100 converge, was exceptionally busy.

“On a holiday weekend in the triangle intersection, it can get very busy quickly,” said Seekins, who added the nearby Irving gas station was overwhelmed with vehicles.

A golf course along Route 7 enjoyed the spike in traffic.

“With a down economy, any good day helps out a lot,” said Palmyra Golf Course owner Brian Cayer.

“It looked like one last hurrah before the snow flies,” he said. Cayer said business at the course becomes “pretty minimal” at the start of October.

“I compare [last weekend] to the first nice weekend in early spring,” Cayer said. “It was a good weekend. It wasn’t stellar, but it was definitely good.”

In Aroostook County, the summerlike weather convinced a few people to unpack clothing and camps that they thought they wouldn’t see for another seven months or so.

Marie Lincoln of Houlton packed away all of her summer clothing two weeks ago, when temperatures in The County began dipping below 40 degrees at night and the daytime temperatures hovered in the low 60s.

“At first, I was just going to kind of suffer through it with a light thermal shirt or something, but then I decided that I wanted to hold on to summer as much as I could,” she said Monday. “I went into the attic and pulled open the boxes to grab some shorts and T-shirts. It was kind of confusing for my 3-year-old, though. She’d seen us packing away the clothes and putting the shovels in the garage, so she thought we’d somehow skipped winter.”

Mike Henderson took unpacking even further. The Houlton resident invited a group of friends to his family camp on East Grand Lake in Danforth and they spent the entire weekend there, lying in the sun and barbecuing.

“I hesitated for just a second, but then I decided to go for it,” he said. “I only hesitated because I had really already winterized the camp, boarded up the windows, covered the furniture with sheets and tarps and brought home all of the food and plates and silverware. So it was a lot of lugging stuff back down there, but we really had a great weekend. It is not often that you can tell your friends that you spent an October weekend in Aroostook County barbecuing at the lake!”

BDN writers Seth Koenig, Jen Lynds, Sharon Kiley Mack, Diana Bowley, Alex Barber and Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

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