Fall good for tourism so far, motel owner says

As fall foliage peaks in much of Aroostook County this week, Steve Dobson is pleased with the number of visitors who’ve come mostly from out-of-state to enjoy the season and scenery.

“I’ve seen more visitors this year than I have in the last several years,” said Dobson, owner of the Aroostook Hospitality Inns in Washburn and Van Buren.

Dobson said his Washburn motel, located in a country setting across from the Aroostook River, is 84 percent booked for October and was full for the first week of the month with visitors from locations including Arizona, Washington State, Missouri and Florida.

“I pulled into the parking lot the other morning and there was one Maine license plate,” he said.

Dobson said he estimates about 75 percent of his early and mid-October visitors in Washburn will be here for fall foliage, while others are primarily visiting for moose, deer and fowl hunting. The Van Buren inn, located in the center of town, is about half-booked for the month but doing a strong business with hunters, he said.

Dobson is one of the region’s most enthusiastic tourism advocates, working with different groups to try to increase Aroostook County’s share of Maine’s tourism dollars.  He said he thinks he helped drum up some leaf-peeping interest in Aroostook online through his inn’s Facebook page, which is followed by a mix of locals and former and regular visitors from around the country.

“Maine’s first peak foliage occurs in Aroostook County,” he wrote on the inn’s page, with an offer to give visitors personalized recommendations on where to visit. “They didn’t all stay with me, but I got about 20 calls,” he said about the response he got.  “Almost all asked me, ‘What should I do and see?’”

Aroostook County can offer lots of different fall experiences, from hiking mountains to paddling lakes and rivers to ATVing, bicycling, motorcycling and driving tours, Dobson said. Visitors get to see the changing colors of the region’s hundreds of thousands of acres of trees at the same time that the potato harvest is in full swing.

Dobson said he will give visitors recommendations depending on their interests and the time of year.

Early in the season, he will suggest driving north on Route 11 from Ashland to the Allagash and upper St. John Valley, where peak foliage is often the earliest. Later on, he will suggest exploring the southern parts of Route 11 between Ashland and Sherman.

Along with recommendations for fall, Dobson also likes to let guests know about Aroostook County’s great outdoors in winter. After a particularly warm summer and fall, some of his most loyal patrons already have snowmobiling on their minds.

“We’re starting to fill up for winter,” he said. “February is looking great.”

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