September 2, 2013

How was our fleeting Maine summer?

Once we got past the rain, pollen and mosquitoes, it was perfect for stand-up paddle boarding.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As if Maine summers could get any shorter.

click image to enlarge

Scott Smyth of Falmouth works on sand sculptures Friday at Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth. Data show this summer has been pretty typical.

Joel Page/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Madeline Miele serves up ice cream Friday at Kettle Cove Creamery.

Joel Page/Staff Photographer

This year's got off to a soggy start with a rained-out Memorial Day weekend, and then there was the seventh-wettest June on record.

As Labor Day marks the symbolic end of the season, Mainers are trying to make the most of the fleeting heat -- despite the pollen -- by spicing up their ice cream, slurping down oysters and standing up on paddle boards. Sound strange?

When you look at the numbers, this summer has actually been pretty typical. The average daily temperature was 67.7 degrees, about a degree above normal, and there were 50 fatalities on the state's roads -- nine fewer than last year and six more than the year before.

Lodging and restaurant sales were up from last year, but not as high as was hoped, said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association.

After a dip in the hotel occupancy rate for June (he blames the rain), it was back up to 71 percent for July, slightly above the same month last year, according to Smith Travel Report.

Turnpike traffic was also down in June but rebounded the next month, when 7.9 million tolls were paid -- up by about 18,000 from last year, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority.

Although the precipitation drew down the number of visitors, it played a role in raising a different figure: the pollen count.

Higher peaks than in previous years were caused by "some magic combination of rain and heat," said Dr. Paul Shapero, an allergist in Bangor. He saw more people than ever who had never had allergies.

And the pollen wasn't the only noxious thing in the air. Mosquitoes were in abundance as a result of the rain.

Mike Russo, president of Maine Mosquito & Pest Services in Portland, said he had a 55 percent increase in customers fighting mosquitoes over last year. That doesn't include the houses he had to spray again, after treatments got washed away by yet another storm.

He attributes part of the business boom to the buzz around mosquito-borne illnesses. Though no mosquito pools were found carrying West Nile Virus, compared to the five that had tested positive by this time last year, a deadlier disease -- Eastern equine encephalitis -- was detected four times.

Speaking of bugs, as in the big red ones, lobster prices were almost as low as last year, when Canadian fishermen blocked truckloads of Maine-caught lobsters from being delivered to processing plants.

The wholesale price of about $2.80 a pound in southern Maine last month didn't incite our neighbors to the north, but did indicate there's more than enough to go around.

Still, the state's iconic sea creature had nothing on a bivalve that whole bars were built around.

Maine oysters, alongside octopus from Spain, were the hottest-selling seafood, both in state and nationally, for Portland-based Browne Trading Co., said marketing director Nick Branchina.

He pointed to the opening of Eventide Oyster Co. last year and Boone's Fish House and Oyster Room last month, both in Portland.

Turns out people will eat anything with a splash of Tabasco sauce. This summer, that probably included ice cream.

Thai chili and chocolate wasabi -- flavors that people stuck out their tongues at just a couple of years ago -- were flying out of the barrels this summer at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream's stores in Portland and Bar Harbor, said owner Linda Parker.

At the Portland farmers market, it was garlic scapes -- the plant's curly green stems you couldn't give away last year -- that got their time in the sun, said Will Troy of the Frith Farm in Scarborough. They're only available for a couple of weeks in June, and, apparently, make for a good pesto.

Now, after all that food, wait 30 minutes ... it's time for the beach.

State parks were more packed than usual this summer. In July, Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth saw a 58 percent increase in attendance over last year, with 40,910 visitors.

More than a few likely came with their stand-up paddle boards -- an item that finally made its way into the L.L.Bean catalog this year, starting at a cool $769, and has been "immensely popular," said spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

Unlike surfing, waves aren't required, nor is much skill, and people could be riding these things right into the fall.

In fact, everyone says, it's not time for summer to end yet. Mother Nature at least has to make up for that seventh-wettest June. Perhaps with the sixth-warmest September?

Maybe you shouldn't put away those white pants just yet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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