The image many have of tourists is of a family spilling out of a minivan with New Jersey plates, decked out in L.L. Bean clothing and gear, looking for a place to buy ice cream cones or fried clams. Sure, these sorts of visitors are important to our biggest industry, but a significant segment of the state’s tourism economy is Mainers visiting Maine. And they eat ice cream and fried clams, too.
Recent survey data showed that 6 percent of the state’s overnight visits were made by Mainers and 37 percent of day-trippers started their journey from an in-state hometown. Outdoor recreation was listed as the top reason for making the overnight trip (37 percent) followed by “touring” (27 percent).
This data makes the case for such innovative marketing strategies as Old Town Canoe’s recently launched “Stay & Play Paddle Adventures.” With help from the city of Old Town and other area businesses, the plan allows adults and children who may have little or no canoeing or kayaking experience to get paddling on the Penobscot River.
The paddling will be supervised by experienced guides. The “stay and play” package deals begin next Friday and continue for each Friday, Saturday and Sunday in July and August.
Out-of-state visitors might sign up for the packages, which include day trip versions and deals that include overnight lodging. People from other parts of the state also will probably come to dip paddles in the river. But it’s likely that most of those who will sign up live within 25 miles of Old Town.
The local nature of the draw should not be seen as failure but rather embraced as success. It’s often the case that local folks know little about the history of their community and often don’t take the time — or have access — to recreational opportunities in their backyards.
Experiencing the Penobscot River — the historic lifeblood of the region — by plying its waters in a human-powered craft will teach local folks and visitors about its power and grandeur. The tours also will explore the Stillwater River and possibly Birch Stream and Pushaw Stream.
The paddle adventures also have the potential to make a vital connection between locals and healthy outdoor exercise. Canoeing and kayaking can be dangerous if done without personal flotation devices and a knowledge of the threats of water, moving or otherwise — which is why these guided adventures are the perfect introduction.
With prices starting at $39.95 per person for day trips, this is an affordable way to know the joy of paddling. Some people may fall in love and buy a kayak or canoe; others may just enjoy a summer day on the water.
More towns should offer such explorations of the wonders of our backyards.