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Joyce Endee

Heritage Park looking for crowds, city looking too

August 12, 2009
BERLIN — Northern Forest Heritage Park River Day was quiet at noon on Saturday, despite the Wingzilla competition and discounted boat rides. Organizers blamed all the other events going on at the same time.

"People can't say there's nothing to do," said Dick Huot, director of Northern Forest Heritage Park, where River Day was held. "It's a positive thing. The Androscoggin Valley is alive this weekend."

Mr. Huot was referring to Milan's Old Home Day, the Wildman Biathlon, and the 24 Hours of Great Glen mountain bike race, all going on at the same time.

"We're not going to have a crowd control problem today," he said.

Crowd problems, however, are what Mr. Huot would like at the park.

"We want to people to come in and enjoy this," he said.

He would like to see the park as a center for events to bring people to the area, something to draw tourists. As part of the effort to make that happen, Mr. Huot recently worked with the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce and the city to secure $13,000 from the Tillotson Fund for marketing. The money will pay WPXT/WPME, a Maine television company, to profile Northern Forest Heritage Park, St. Kieran Center for the Arts, Gorham Moose Tours and the ATV park. The segment will then air through the late summer and the fall in the Portland, Maine, area.

"That's the kind of thing we need to do," he said, because it will raise the profile not just of the park but of the city.

And the city needs to do more, he said. But whose job is it to do this sort of advertising? Where does he think responsibility for these projects lies?

"At the chamber's desk," Mr. Huot said. He is a member of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce's marketing committee, which partners with the Gorham Information Booth and North Woods Rafting on projects to raise the area's profile.

"I'm already seeing the result of some of that," he said.

It benefits the whole valley to work together, he said, because Berlin's image doesn't just affect Berlin.

"The perception of Berlin on the other side of the notch hurts the entire Androscoggin Valley," he said.

Heather Piche, also a member of the chamber's marketing committee, said the chamber is working on ways to get the word out about the area. One way they are doing that is by partnering with her company, North Woods Rafting, to staff the information booth at Heritage Park. Other efforts, she said, are mostly through the website.

"That's where we've been trying to focus our money," she said.

It will take a combined effort to change the city's image, she said, far more extensive than just those of the chamber.

"I don't think [responsibility] stops in one place," she said.

But, she said, it always comes down to money, and how to spend it to make it.

"It's always the chicken and the egg," Mrs. Piche said. "We've wanted to do so much more."

Mayor David Bertrand would also like to do more marketing on the city's behalf. He said previous administrations relied on the state to market the area.

The state's view of the city, however, is colored by Berlin's industrial past, which has hampered efforts to market the area as a tourist destination. Mayor Bertrand said the city needs to sit down with the state and change their attitude about the area to make their marketing more effective.

He also said he'd like to see the city do something on its own, he said, but "I'm not exactly sure what that is at this point."

One possibility would be using funding currently allocated for the development director position to pay to revamp the city's image.

"There's some merit to that idea," he said. The private sector will bring jobs on its own if there are opportunities, so "we would probably be better served working on marketing," he said.

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