VAN BUREN — Tapping northern Maine’s potential for winter tourism was the focus of a recent meeting at Van Buren. The emphasis was on snowmobiling.
According to a study by the Maine Snowmobile Association, snowmobilers contribute $125 million to $150 million to Maine’s economy each year. Participants at last Wednesday’s session discussed how Van Buren could get a share of those tourist dollars.
“This came out of the Town Council and our efforts toward community development,” said Town Councilor Charles Plourde, who led the discussion.
“We have a snowmobile club that grooms 115 miles of trail and does a super job. Because of that, we are able to offer some of the best snowmobiling in the state and we wanted to discuss ways to promote that,” he said.
“I don’t think we really appreciate all of the work that they do. The snowmobile club does thousands of volunteer hours,” Plourde said.
He said that in addition to maintaining trails, the club had to raise about $13,000 for payments on a trail groomer. “That’s a big burden for the club and we really would like to see the whole community pull together and support them in their fund raisers,” he said.
About 15 people attended, including members of the Gateway Snowmobile Club, the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, the business community, town government and local law enforcement.
Participants felt that one way to lure snowmobilers to Van Buren would be to establish a winter festival with a focus on snowmobiling. Such an event could begin during the winter of 1993-94.
“We feel that it really would need to be spearheaded by the businesses. The snowmobile club maintains the trails and really that’s their contribution to all this,” Plourde said. He said businesses which catered to snowmobilers stood to derive “more direct benefits.”
Plourde hoped the meeting marked the start of what could be a community effort to reap snowmobiling benefits. “We’d like to get a group or committee together to work on ideas like the winter festival,” he said.
Snowmobile Club President Glen Vaillancourt said, “We have some of the nicest riding trails in the state and everybody knows that. We just need to offer more incentives. A lot of people come in from out of town to ride here. These people are just looking for something to do,” he said.
“I think the town is starting to see that tourism is there waiting for us. It’s already there. We don’t need to bring in new industries for that,” Vaillancourt said. He said that while on the trails, he had met people from many places. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. People want to get away from the city and spend money.”
“I’m very optimistic about tourism,” said Farren. “I really think that this is what we need to be looking at. Snowmobiling is one of our (recreational) resources and we need to promote it.” She noted, however that promotional efforts would be hampered by limited resources and a limited number of people able to volunteer.
The group also watched part of a video earlier shown at a Town Council meeting. The video demonstrated how Sand Point, a small town in Idaho that is similar to Van Buren, had built a viable year-round tourism trade on its natural resources. Tourism now accounts for about a third of the town’s jobs, which helps offset the effects of a downturn in the Idaho logging industry.