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BikeMaine ride director touts economic benefits Aroostook can anticipate

CARIBOU, Maine — In 2017, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s largest event — the annual BikeMaine ride through particular regions of the state — brought in $660,000 of direct economic benefits to its host communities in Somerset County. In the past five years, it has contributed $2.3 million to the state’s economy.

This year, 450 cyclists will take off from Presque Isle on Sunday, Sept. 9 and head to Caribou before traveling to the St. John Valley for overnight stays in Madawaska, Fort Kent and St. Agatha. They will return to Presque Isle on Saturday, Sept. 15.

MaryBeth Luce, BikeMaine ride director, predicts that the weeklong 320-mile trek will help Aroostook County reap much the same economic benefits as previous host communities in central, southern and Down East Maine.

“Cyclists will ride 50 miles every day and stop in host communities for overnight stays,” Luce explained during the Northern Maine Development Commission’s annual meeting on June 21. “They’ll spend their days shopping and eating at local businesses and restaurants and many of them have already made their own hotel arrangements instead of staying at the campsites, which will provide even greater economic benefits to host communities.”

Presque Isle, Caribou, Madawaska, Fort Kent and St. Agatha all will serve as host communities for the cyclists during their trip, which organizers call “BikeMaine 2018: Acadia in the St. John Valley — La Terre Entre Deux.” In each town, staff members and volunteers will set up outside “tent villages” for the cyclists and provide food from local farmers and businesses as well as entertainment.

Cyclists who arrive in Presque Isle on Saturday, Sept. 8, will be able to state in a tent village set up on the athletic fields near the Sargent Family Community Center. Food vendors and a beer tent will be on available and the band Star City Syndicate will perform that evening. All events are free and Luce encourages the public to come out and mingle with the cyclists.

“The cyclists love interacting with residents and getting to know what it’s like to live in the areas they travel through,” Luce said. “There will be 215 cyclists from Maine and 235 from 38 other states and countries, many of whom have never been to Aroostook County. Two-hundred and fifty of those riders are returning to BikeMaine.”

In addition, 54 percent of BikeMaine participants from 2017 reported having annual incomes of $100,000 or more, with 65 percent of those people holding graduate degrees in their respective fields. Although the ages of the cyclists range from 23 to to 78, the average age is 61 and many become involved with BikeMaine later in life when they have more time for traveling.

Such a population, Luce noted, is one that is crucial for tourism in the state of Maine and one that central and northern Aroostook County has the opportunity to attract by being the 2018 BikeMaine trek locations.

“Last year, the cyclists spent a total of $262,000 of their own money while they visited in host communities,” Luce said. “BikeMaine chooses a different region of Maine to showcase every year because we want potential tourists to realize what makes these communities unique.”

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine has been working with County municipalities to plan events in each community centered on the cyclists’ visits and to promote the areas where they will be staying. The BikeMaine website includes detailed descriptions of each host community, including brief historic and cultural facts and outdoor attractions.

Luce has spent much time in Aroostook County since the region announced as the 2018 BikeMaine route in February and admitted that even she did not expect to “fall in love” with the area as much as she has. She hopes that riding through some of the cities and towns of Maine’s northernmost region will encourage cyclists to visit again, both for The County’s scenic beauty and its people.

“I have never seen any community in Maine show as much pride and sincerity as the people in Aroostook County,” Luce said. “We’re so excited to be part of this unique event with your communities.”

More information about BikeMaine and this year’s route can be found at http://ride.bikemaine.org/.

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