WILLIMANTIC – Piscataquis County is home to wondrous woodland wonders, such as Moosehead Lake, the 100-Mile Wilderness, Baxter State Park and Gulf Hagas.
It also bears the mantle of poorest county in Maine.
But those working to capitalize on the region’s reputation as an eco-tourism destination are rolling out a new strategy by working to focus attention on the county’s lesser-known natural marvels. A new website and trail guides will direct visitors to some of the area’s more than 100 waterfalls.
“We have more than any other county. We’ve already negotiated public access at 18,” said Bob Hamer, executive director of the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce.
This year, the Piscataquis Tourism Development Authority has gotten two grants to help it bring attention to the first three waterfall trails it created. A website devoted to waterfalls in the region was due to go live this weekend, promoting Maine Woods Tourism, as its name promises.
In addition, passports offering incentives for tourists to visit the waterfalls will be available at the visitor center in Greenville.
The waterfall tours website — www.mainewoodstourism.org — and the passports were paid for with grants of $3,600 and $1,000 from the Maine Community Foundation and a federal trails fund, respectively.
The first three tours, including one that features “drive up” falls exclusively, is only the start said Ken Woodbury, community development director of the Development Authority.
“New Hampshire does a good job marketing its waterfalls. In some places, people drive up and can picnic and spend the day. Maine has so much, but does a poor job marketing its natural resources,” Woodbury said.
Of course, the Moosehead region does a terrific job marketing one natural curiosity there: Maine’s ample moose population.
Just ask Registered Maine Guide Ed Mathieu.
“I’m so tired of moose tours. That’s all people want to see: moose. There is more to Maine than moose,” said Mathieu who leads nature tours.
Mathieu has run moose tours around Moosehead Lake from April to October for 20 years. But his birding, meteor and waterfall tours? He still is waiting for those to catch on.
“I try to sell the waterfall tours to the lodges and inns. But they don’t want to listen. All they want is moose,” Mathieu said.
The county development authority’s effort to elevate attention on waterfalls, however, has Mathieu encouraged.
And in this central part of Maine — “the Heart of Vacationland” as the town of Willimantic calls itself — they need all the eco-tourism they can get.
In the last United States census, Piscataquis passed Washington County as the state’s poorest county with a median household income of $34,016, compared to the Down East county’s $34,859.
The waterfalls tours, Hamer and Woodbury hope, will be one of many new ways to draw tourists to this heartland.
Even during this hot Maine summer and in the midst of a national drought, Maine’s waterfalls are impressive.
“Compared to the rest of the country, this would look plentiful,” Woodbury says as he looks at Lower Little Wilson Falls run down a rock slide.
Piscataquis County usually has gushing falls, but the lack of rain has revealed more natural rock patios and dry outcrops than is normal for this time of year. Still, the county has plenty of falling water to behold.
“Usually, the water is up to the sides, there and there. This is not a fifth, not an eighth of the water that is usually here. Usually, it’s spread out, and impressive,” Hamer said while admiring Big Wilson Falls.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: