Visitor Center is a gateway to The County

15 years ago

    HOULTON — The visitor information center at the juncture of Ludlow Road and U.S. Route 1 had a good year with more than 21,000 people going through the doors for free information on Maine, discount coupons, maps, dining guides, museums and what to see or do in the state.

ImageHoulton Pioneer Times Photo/Elna Seabrooks 
    Odette Ouellette, left, is a travel counselor and Heidi Wilson Dolomont is the manager at the Maine Visitor Information Center on the Ludlow Road in Houlton. The center has free maps, guides, discount coupons and information on what to do or see on Maine.

    “It’s a gateway to the county with huge tourism potential on both sides of the border,” says Vaughn Stinson, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association.
    Heidi Wilson Dolomont is manager of the Houlton information center operated by the Maine Tourism Association. “We’re getting a lot of people coming in from Canada and other areas and locals as well. They get coupon books for discounts at motels. Every month there are new discounts. And our numbers are up year-to-date by almost 7 percent compared to last year this time,” says Dolomont.
Center draws Canadian
tourists and business
    With the Canadian dollar valued so close to the American dollar, tourists have been crossing the border to shop, stay in motels with discount coupons and take affordable vacations says Dolomont.
     The snow trails are also a big draw for people from all over the Northeast says Dolomont. “We have some of the best trails. We get a lot of groups from Pennsylvania who come because the trails are so good. And, we get a lot of repeats from all over with our parking lot leading into a snowmobile trail.”
    At this time of year shopping in Houlton is big for the Canadians according to Dolomont. But, she adds there are other big reasons to visit throughout the year. “They love Acadia State Park, Baxter State Park. Those are always big attractions. A lot of people pass through on their way to Ontario. And they love the beaches in southern Maine. There are a lot of reasons to visit. After 17 years here, I’m still learning something every day. There is something new all the time.”
    Some French-speaking tourists get help from part-time staffer Odette Ouellette, a retired literacy and English literature teacher who speaks French fluently. “The visitors to the center have very definite requests when they come in. They often want discount booklets and maps,” says Ouellette.
    With information and guides for the entire state of Maine, they can pick up free guides for cities like Bangor and Bar Harbor, county guides, and information on camping, summer water sports and winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling.
    There has been some discussion and concern that the visitor center might close due to budgetary cutbacks. And, the possibility is still up in the air with no firm word on its life span under the Department of Transportation that actually owns the property.
    Stinson says he has no firm word or commitment on its future. And, as recently as two weeks ago, Wade Hanson, Houlton’s community development director, said he met with DOT officials to look at options for the building. “It’s important for Aroostook County that the center stays open. We will try to look at all options and what will work.”
    Hanson pointed out that from a business standpoint, visitors not only stop in for travel and tourism reasons, but for information on businesses in Aroostook County and the rest of the state. The snowmobiling industry, alone, has revenues around $460 million according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association that cited a study by the University of Maine.
Federal guidelines may
determine center’s future
    Mark Latti spokesman for MaineDOT, agreed that local groups and the town are seeking a way to keep the center open so that operations there can continue. However, according to Latti, the land and building were paid for with money from the Federal Highway Administration. Therefore, all parties, he said, have to abide by certain requirements and the property cannot simply be given away or sold without adherence to certain federal guidelines. Latti said a solution by summertime is possible.
    The center is always a welcoming environment with a rustic cabin-style décor. A live fully decorated Christmas tree from Benn Hill Tree Farm in cooperation with the Maine Christmas Tree Association has been on display in keeping with the season. Local artist Glenn Hines’ bronze sculpture of a moose sits on the front desk and complements the ambiance of the décor. Many visitors enjoy touching the moose which the artist has said enhances the patina.
    The center has Internet connectivity and is open seven days a week from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. during winter months with extended hours in the summer. It is closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. Restrooms, maintained by Bangor Abatement, are always open. For information, call 532-6346.