September 1, 2011

Irene fails to dampen Labor Day predictions

Officials say storm damage will not be an issue, and some innkeepers report solid advance bookings.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Campground, resort and inn owners, along with state tourism officials, say they don't expect the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene to reduce the number of people who visit Maine this Labor Day weekend.

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Officials say they are basing their forecast -- for what is traditionally one of the state's busiest weekends -- on occupancy rates and firsthand accounts.

Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said her first thought after Irene tore through Maine was about what would happen with the holiday weekend.

After speaking with representatives from the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Campground Owners Association, she said, her concerns seemed to be unfounded.

"A lot of the challenges we're facing from the storm are perception ... what are people hearing?" Ouellette said. "My message is, Maine is open for business."

Ouellette said some inns and campgrounds are sold out for the weekend, and she has heard that the fall foliage bookings are stronger than ever.

"In the past, Labor Day represented the close of summer, but that's not the case anymore," she said.

The 775-acre Point Sebago Resort in Casco is in one of the areas that were hardest hit by Irene. During Sunday's storm, a tree fell and went through the roof of an unoccupied cabin. At the height of the storm, guests were evacuated to shelters at the resort, where they watched movies and played games.

Don Toms, Point Sebago's general manager, said that while the resort did shut down during the storm, operations are back to normal.

Downed trees and limbs have been removed, and the power is back on nearly all of the campsites and cabins. Only one area, on an island, remained without power Wednesday.

Toms said Central Maine Power must replace a transformer to restore powers to the island's 22 cabins. He is hopeful the work will be done by Friday.

"If you go into the resort today, you wouldn't notice anything. Reservations are 100 percent booked (for Labor Day)," Thoms said Wednesday. "We are looking really busy for the weekend."

Rick Abare, director of the Maine Campground Owner's Association, spent Monday and Tuesday visiting 25 campgrounds from York to just north of Bangor to assess storm damage. He saw many downed trees and branches, but no serious damage.

"Though several of them still don't have power, they expect to have it back by the weekend," Abare said.

"Everyone will be open and they will be busy this weekend," Abare predicted.

One of the busiest campgrounds will be Dixon's Coastal Maine Campground off Route 1 in York.

"We are 100 percent booked for the weekend, except for two sites on Sunday," said Whitney Sullivan, whose parents, Mike and Roberta Sullivan, own the 125-site campground.

Sullivan said many campers have been calling ahead to check on the storm damage. Many are repeat campers, who make reservations as much as a year in advance.

"We didn't really suffer a lot of damage. It was mostly a lot of tree limbs and twigs. We went right to work on Monday. It was like spring cleanup," she said.

Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, did some extensive web research regarding room availability on Wednesday, and was pleasantly surprised with what he found.

He said about 80 percent of motel, hotel, and bed-and-breakfast rooms statewide were booked for Saturday.

"That's not bad for a Labor Day weekend," Dugal said. "I think everyone is looking to have a good weekend."

Maine's state parks will be open for Labor Day weekend, including Sebago Lake State Park, the Eagle Island state historic site in Harpswell, and Warren Island State Park in Penobscot Bay, off Lincolnville. Jeanne Curran, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Conservation, said the two island parks were evacuated before Tropical Storm Irene hit. Those parks reopened Wednesday.

Tours to Eagle Island, which are provided by charter boat operators, resumed Wednesday.

"I don't think the storm will deter people from coming to Maine this weekend. This could be the best weather weekend of the entire summer," Curran said.

Curran said her office is already receiving inquiries from prospective visitors from around the world. They are interested in viewing the state's fall foliage.

"There is a lot of international interest in Maine," she said. "If this weather continues, it could be an extraordinary season."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

 

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