ACTON, Maine – Arthur Follis likes winter plenty.
“It’s quiet time,” said the 82-year-old while munching on a hot dog at the Acton Congregational Church social luncheon.
But as summer kicks into gear, quiet is hard to come by. The town’s 10 lakes and ponds bring thousands of summer people, more than doubling the population to around 5,000. Like Stephen King’s fictitious Chester’s Mills in “Under the Dome,” Acton flips a switch as summer barges in, and the rural town in southern Maine’s lakes region wakes up.
“They come for our way of life,” said Lorraine Yeaton, who has lived in Acton since 1947. “It is quiet and peaceful, you know? Go up to the lake and sit there and close your eyes. The combination of the water and wind blowing will transport you to a peaceful state.”
Here, Vacationland isn’t about selling T-shirts, beach towels and fried clams. It’s about seeing new faces around the lake, at the church social and the town dump.
“Most of our summer people are not looking for attractions; they are looking to take it easy,” said Yeaton, who moved from Sanford 66 years ago to escape the bustle.
There are no hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts in town. Nary a frothy latte in sight. Visitors stay in the town’s sole campground. Most own or rent cottages by the water.
“It’s quiet during the week, but on the weekend you don’t know who will come up,” said Follis. “All my friends show up; we have a community again.”
Some residents, including Belinda Klein-Robbenhaar, who lives on Wilson Lake, long for untrammeled solitude. Weekenders hitting the water with a vengeance often dispel the aura.
“It’s a love-hate thing,” she said. “You kind of get invaded every weekend when the Jet Skis, party boats and sailboats [take over the lake]. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, you can relax again. It’s crazy, but they do bring money.”
And that helps sustain the farm she runs with her husband.
On summer weekends, K-R Farm sells twice as many fresh eggs, from 20 to 40 dozen, than in the off season.
“It pays for horse feed, chicken feed, hay and puts gas in the tank,” said her husband, Drew Klein-Robbenhaar. “That keeps me happy.”
Unlike Wiscasset, Bar Harbor or Kennebunk and other Maine towns that roll out the red carpet for summer tourists, people flock to Acton for what isn’t here.
“Acton’s industry is the lakefront property,” said Yeaton.
Though most homes are modest capes and cottages, some are new or renovated homes that have sold for up to $1 million. Others are preserved antiques passed down from generation to generation. Only two lakes are not inhabited.
Living on the water means paying more in property taxes — two to three times more, said selectman Bill Shields. Homes along Acton’s forested lake are predominantly owned by seasonal visitors by a margin of two to one.
Supporting year-round services — at a rate of $11 per thousand dollars of valuation, slightly higher than nearby Shapleigh, whose rate is $9.30 — summer homeowners provide a fiscal foundation for town operations. Retreating in homes nestled in the woods on private roads comes with headaches. For one, the town won’t pave them.
“People that show up in the summer don’t register to vote here. There is a certain amount of unhappiness. They pay a lot in taxes to live by the lake,” said Shields.
That allows the town to have a “good school and services that wouldn’t be here,” said the selectman.
It also means more cash in the till for businesses such as the Acton Trading Post. Smack dab in the middle of Mousam Lake, on Route 109, the convenience store carries camping supplies, beer, pizza and subs for hungry boaters who pull up to the docks to refuel.
Business volume increases three to four times this time of year at Acton’s only store.
“You can barely pull into our parking lot in the summer. It’s like going from one extreme to the other,” said Adam Pelletier, whose family has owned Acton Trading Post for 12 years.
He hires three or four extra people to keep the coolers stocked, and always rings up more sales over the Fourth of July weekend than he does for the entire month of February.
During the summer, “I make enough money for the year and support my family,” he said.
That’s thanks to people such as Lucille Knight, who arrived a few weeks ago from Ohio and will spend the summer on Treasure Island on nearby Square Pond.
Her plan for the summer?
“Watch the hummingbirds, enjoy the finches and the loons.”
And for the locals, peace returns after Labor Day.
“I like it both ways,” said Follis.