June 22, 2013

A cross-border marathon has Down East looking up

The inaugural event has drawn a larger than expected field of 800 runners to Lubec and Campobello.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

LUBEC - Perched at the easternmost tip of both Maine and the nation, tiny Lubec is rarely flooded with visitors. It's too remote: an hour from the nearest stoplight, more than two to the nearest Starbucks or airline terminal.

click image to enlarge

Lubec and Campobello expect a much-needed economic boost from Sunday’s cross-border marathon, which lured 800 runners from nine countries and 37 states to the remote region.

Colin Woodard photo

click image to enlarge

Campobello, its nearest neighbor across the FDR Memorial Bridge, is even more isolated: a Canadian island community whose residents have no direct access to the rest of Canada 10 months of the year, and must drive there via Lubec and a great swath of eastern Washington County.

But the two towns -- with but 2,400 people between them -- are braced for what may be the largest influx of weekend visitors in their history: 800 runners and at least as many guests and spectators arriving for the first Bay of Fundy International Marathon, which takes place Sunday.

The number of runners -- who come from 37 states and nine countries -- is quadruple the number originally expected by the race's organizers, an all-volunteer group that sees the race as an opportunity to give the struggling Down East region an economic boost and increased exposure.

"We were thinking it would be wonderful if we could get 200 runners, and then we hit 800 and had to close registration. We're very excited about it," says Sue Keef, the lead organizer on the Canadian side, who owns the restaurant at Campobello's Herring Cove Provincial Park. "We're two small towns working together to try to bring tourism and the economy up both this weekend and in the long term."

Every hotel, motel, and guest house bed is reportedly booked for a 30-mile radius from downtown Lubec, where the finish line is.

The only gas station in the two communities ordered a special fuel delivery Friday to meet expected demand, and islanders were scurrying to do cross-border shopping Thursday before visitors arrive in force.

The communities could use the boost. Campobello has been losing population, especially since the imposition of stricter security and passport requirements by U.S. border officials after the 9/11 attacks scared off tourists and complicated everyday lives that are, by geographical necessity, cross-border in nature.

The island's only bank and gas station have closed, meaning residents have to drive to or through the U.S. to fill their tanks or interact with the Canadian banking system.

Lubec, a former fishing and sardine canning town, has seen a revival of seasonal main street commerce, but has dozens of boarded-up homes and businesses. The town closed its high school in 2010, and its 37 students now travel nearly two hours each day to attend school in Eastport or Machias.

But the region has a powerful asset: natural beauty staggering even for Maine and New Brunswick. Twenty-foot tides sweep between islands, cliffs, and beaches, many of them part of state, provincial and international parks.

Katherine Cassidy, a former reporter who represents the region in the Maine House of Representatives, thought the international community would make an attractive and exotic setting for marathon runners. She knew something about what draws runners, having covered marathons around the world for national running magazines, for which she traveled as far afield as Darjeeling, Marrakesh, and Bangkok.

"The cross-border, two country experience and the region's beauty and ruralness -- I thought that would be very attractive," says Cassidy, who recently completed a master's thesis on the economic benefits of first-year marathons in rural settings.

Sunday's race is also an official qualifying event for the Boston Marathon, and Cassidy suspects part of the surge in interest may be in response to the terror attacks there, as many runners may want to return to Boston in a show of solidarity for the city and its marathon.

(Continued on page 2)

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