Rotary District Gov. Tina Chapman stands behind the podium Thursday as Sue Pratt of the Farmington Rotary introduces herself to other Rotary officials from Quebec and Maine who gathered at the Chace Community Forum in downtown Waterville to discuss this weekend’s District Rotary Conference being held in the city. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

It’s a great puzzle to have to solve: How to help accommodate thousands of people who flock to central Maine for conferences, athletic tournaments, festivals and other events.

And to help them feel welcome.

Officials with the Waterville-based Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and Augusta-based Kennebec Valley Chamber of Conference say they are working with and supporting each other when such an influx is expected, as it is this weekend.

“We all understand how important it is to work as a region, especially in the Kennebec Valley,” said Mike Guarino, community engagement specialist with the Mid-Maine Chamber, whose position was created last summer specifically to help with large events.

Guarino has been working with city officials, restaurants, hotels and other entities to help welcome those coming to Waterville this weekend for three separate events:

• The District Rotary Conference, which is drawing Rotary Club members from the top of Quebec, south to Damariscotta, with activities held at various venues around the city from Friday through Sunday.


• Messalonskee Area Youth Softball Association’s round robin tournament, to be attended by people from all over Maine and New England and held at athletic fields in Waterville, Oakland and surrounding communities.

• Maine Conference for Jewish Life to be held at Thomas College in Waterville, also Friday through Sunday.

“Several thousand people will be coming to enjoy the city this weekend,” Guarino, of the Waterville-based chamber, said Thursday.

Mike Guarino is the community engagement specialist with the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville.  Photo courtesy of Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce

Guarino’s position was created as chamber officials recognized that organizers increasingly wanted to hold large events in Waterville and related phone calls to the chamber were going up, according to chamber President and CEO Kimberly Lindlof. Guarino, who served on the chamber’s board of directors and has been with the organization about 10 years, took the job.

He helps with events in a variety of ways, including contacting hotels to check for availability and rates, and serving as a liaison for lodging, restaurants and caterers, which are a big attraction for conferences and large groups.

“We’re really good at that,” he said. “It’s so much fun to market.”


Lindlof and Guarino said the chamber wants to help roll out the red carpet for groups coming to Waterville and give them a great experience in the region.

Guarino and Katie Doherty, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, serve on the Kennebec Valley Tourism Council together and use those and their chamber roles to help welcome people and events to the region.

If hotels start to fill up in Augusta and more rooms are needed, Doherty will contact Guarino and vice versa, for instance, to help fill the gap. The word is out that the cities and surrounding areas are able to accommodate and welcome big events, as well as smaller ones, they say.

Augusta has hosted the 70.3-mile Iron Man triathlon and secured a contract through 2027, according to Doherty. Swimming in the Kennebec River, biking around Kennebec County and a run are included. Last year, people from 47 states and 29 countries participated, drawing many thousands of people to the region, Doherty said. This year, the event is scheduled for Sunday, July 28, but people book hotels and restaurants for a few days around it, staying not only locally but in cities including Lewiston, Brunswick and Waterville, according to Doherty.

Rotary member Suzanne Uhl-Melanson speaks Thursday during a meeting at the Chace Community Forum in downtown Waterville, where Rotary officials from Quebec and Maine gathered to discuss this weekend’s District Rotary Conference in the city. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Her chamber also helps with the Great Race scheduled for the last weekend in June. It starts in Kentucky and will end this year in Gardiner. The antique car rally showcase brings with it crews of supporting vehicles and volunteers.

“We’ve sold out mostly all the hotels in the Augusta area,” Doherty said.


The thousands of people who come to the region eat in restaurants, stay in hotels and shop at businesses. “It’s a good pushout into the local economy,” she said.

Another venue that draws many people to the region is the concert venue, Bowl in the Pines, at the New England Music Camp in Sidney, she said.

“I think central Maine is looked at as a tourist destination as well,” she said.

Another big event coming up in Waterville is the 27th annual Maine International Film Festival, which runs July 12-21. The festival screens some 100 films and typically draws thousands of film enthusiasts from near and far to the city.

Waterville has been hosting events for a long time, but in the past, it had to chase them down to bring them to the city, according to Guarino.

“Now, people are realizing they want to come to Waterville, so they’re all calling us,” he said. “That’s the shift. That’s the difference.”

Filmgoers walk along a red carpet July 9, 2023, after watching a movie at the Maine International Film Festival in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. This year, the festival runs July 12-21. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

An event open to the public as part of the Rotary conference this weekend is a talk by author, filmmaker and speaker Kevin Hines of California, who 24 years ago jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in a suicide attempt, but was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after a sea lion helped to keep him afloat. He travels the world, speaking about mental illness, hope, healing and recovery.

Hines will speak at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Waterville Opera House and will show his documentary film, “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” at 1:30 p.m. He will sign books in the lobby after the event. Tickets are $25 and available at the door.

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