November 17, 2017
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Why Down East Maine is the ultimate marine tourism destination

By John Ames, Special to the BDN
BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
The Pirate Festival in Eastport has become an annual affair for the Maine community on Passamaquoddy Bay.
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Mainers can be proud of Penobscot Bay, with its lighthouses, lobster boats, friendly communities and endless scenery. What other bay could match this marine wonderland?

Well, there’s a quiet rival just to the east. Passamaquoddy Bay, shared between Maine and New Brunswick, enjoys comparable beauty and history.

Working-waterfront communities such as Eastport and Lubec offer a lively arts scene. On the Canadian side, sights include the elegant mansions of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and fish flipping in the herring weirs of Grand Manan. Boaters coming east to Quoddy will find higher, more thrilling tides and unmatched whale watching.

This shared bay is one reason why Maine and New Brunswick promote the “Two Nation Vacation” for our region in its entirety. Visitors find an international tapestry of cities, towns and villages linked by history and culture, but each with its own distinct flavor. One can experience breathtaking scenery, the best seafood in the world and warm hospitality on both sides of the border.

At the central bay where our coastlines meet, Passamaquoddy offers marine elements similar to those of Penobscot — with just one exception. The Quoddy seascape still has nothing comparable to Penobscot Bay’s pleasant, lively and profitable presence of recreational and tourism vessels.

But this almost certainly will develop in the Passamaquoddy area, and as minister of tourism for New Brunswick, I would like to suggest why and how.

Camden, Rockland, Bar Harbor and other Penobscot ports host watercraft ranging from speedboats to windjammers, yachts and major cruise vessels. These liven up the waterfront and draw additional visitors by land, because people like to look at boats.

And they bring ashore a good cargo of revenue. The cruise industry alone gives Maine some 750 jobs and $47 million yearly in direct spending. Recreational marine boating generates $205 million and 1,800 jobs for the state.

The surging saltwater tourism will eventually spread east to Passamaquoddy Bay. People on both sides of the border say it’s too obvious an opportunity not to happen.

One sign of the future is on Campobello Island. The Welshpool Landing initiative is redeveloping the historic wharf and hall on the same bay where Franklin Roosevelt learned to sail.

Campobello is the closest Canadian port of entry to the U.S.’s Eastern Seaboard. Vessels checking through customs at Welshpool Landing can voyage on to other ports in Quoddy and the Bay of Fundy without further formalities.

On the Quoddy Bay circuit, marine travelers will find both beauty and a certain convenience. For example, journeying by car from the Roosevelt Campobello International Park to the fishing wharves and art galleries of Eastport takes an hour’s drive around a large bay. By boat it’s only 10 minutes.

Each of the small but lively communities on the Canadian and American sides of Quoddy has its own attractions. Visited by vessel, they form a collective downtown.

In the heyday of summer colonies and the sardine industry, boats constantly criss-crossed these shared waters. Building up marine tourism requires restoring those links.

Working out customs and related procedures and enhancing services and marketing will best proceed through cross-border partnerships, both formal and informal.

The personal relationships are already there in the Passamaquoddy area, along with many business ones. And the Two Nation Vacation program shows an official willingness to co-operate.

We just need to apply partnerships such as those on land to boost the marine dimension.

In so doing, we need to keep a mutual eye on our shared bay’s qualities. The people envisaging future marine-tourism growth often mention that Passamaquoddy Bay still is unspoiled.

There are tourism centers in the world — most of us have seen such places — where the original attractiveness was undermined by overbuilding. Nobody wants that to happen Down East.

It is the blended legacies of small local communities that give Quoddy its distinct character, which is hard to describe, but we know we’re living it.

I hope the growth in marine and general tourism will be judicious and that on both sides of the border we will highlight and protect the qualities of the bay we love.

John Ames is the minister of tourism, heritage and culture for the province of New Brunswick.

 


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