From the first contact to the last goodbye, every interaction counts toward a visitor’s experience of the place they are visiting. Exciting travel packages, quality services, attractive buildings and genuine Maine Woods experiences will draw visitors and keep them coming back.
The Center’s Tourism Innovation Program is helping tourism providers in Maine implement innovations that will strengthen their businesses, expand job opportunities and attract visitors to the Maine Woods.
In March 2019, the Center awarded a grant from the Piscataquis County Tourism Innovation Program (TIP) to Turning Page Farm and Brewery in Monson, Maine, to help the small-batch goat dairy and brewery develop as an agritourism destination. In 2018, the Center awarded a TIP grant to entrepreneur Abby Freethy in Greenville, Maine, to expand her Northwoods Gourmet Girl business from its origins as a producer of all-natural pantry staples into a full lifestyle brand.
In 2017, the Center awarded the first three grants in the program to help three Moosehead Lake area businesses —The Spa at Blair Hill, Northeast Whitewater and Moose Tours, and Moosehead Marine Museum — implement new product and business innovations. See details of all projects below.
The program offers qualified businesses financial assistance ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 each to hire top consultants to develop and implement business innovations ranging from software and facility improvements to new product development. Learn about grant eligibility.
Grant Funded Projects
Turning Page Farm & Brewery
The Northern Forest Center awarded a grant to Turning Page Farm in Monson, Maine, this spring to help the small-batch goat dairy and brewery develop as an agritourism destination. The $13,500-grant will help owners Joy and Tim Bueschen expand visitor amenities at the farm, extend their operating season, add new products and expand their production capacity.
The Center awarded the grant through its Tourism Innovation Program to strengthen Turning Page Farm’s appeal as an agritourism destination for visitors and residents, and to help the farm contribute to community revitalization efforts in Monson, Maine, and the broader Moosehead Lake area.
The Bueschens are creating a year-round seating area — screened for summer enjoyment and with passive heating in the winter, installing a new brewing system to increase their beer productivity more than 10 times, and establishing a food truck operation to expand customer offerings and increase sales. One of their first new offerings will be bratwurst produced from pigs they’re raising on their property.
“Our ‘earth battery’ green house building is underway and we hope to have it completed in the next month,” said Joy Bueschen. “The greenhouse will allow us to extend our season for the tasting room. Imagine, February with outside temps nearing zero degrees and inside our sunny greenhouse you can sip beer in 90 degree and short sleeves!”
The farm’s current list of offerings includes goat milk products including Chevre and Feta cheese, multiple soap varieties, hand-crafted Red Ale and American Pale Ale, and activities such as beer tastings, Goat School, classes in making goat milk soap or cheese, and the opportunity to watch goats and pigs forage and play on the farm.
“Turning Page Farm’s focus on creating engaging, high-touch visitor experiences aligns well with strategy recommendations recently produced by the Maine Woods Consortium to guide development activities in high potential rural destination areas,” said Mike Wilson, senior program director for the Center. “We’re excited to help expand the Turning Page Farm experience. It’s just the kind of new, immersive retail, food and drink offering that attracts visitors and is also a welcome addition for people who live in the area.”
Recent research released by the Maine Woods Consortium points to agritourism as an opportunity for the Maine Woods region to “provide authentic experiences, provide a rural escape for urbanites, and create direct economic benefits to local business.” The University of Maine has documented that “Beer tourism” has grown exponentially in recent years with the number of breweries in Maine growing from 14 in 2007 to 133 in 2018. Nine million Maine tourists (1 in 5) visited a brewery in 2017.
New road signs are already generating new business for the farm. “We are surprised at how many people say, ‘we just saw your sign, we had no idea there was a brewery here’,” said Joy Bueschen.
Joy and her husband Tim bring extensive corporate business experience to their enterprise and to the Moosehead region. After 20 years working in corporate sales and supply chain management, they decided to combine their passions for goats and beer and build a new life in rural Maine. They’ve recovered from a serious fire setback in their first year, and last year tested the viability of agritourism by offering a small beer garden under a canopy overlooking the goat pasture.
“This expansion project should significantly advance their business plan and enable them to improve margins by adding more retail to their current wholesale operation,” said Wilson. The expansion will initially create two full-time jobs and will likely require up to 3 part-time employees to support the beer garden and expanded food service in 2020.
Northwoods Gourmet Girl
A $20,000 grant from the Northern Forest Center helped entrepreneur Abby Freethy expand Northwoods Gourmet Girl from its origins as a producer of all-natural pantry staples into a full lifestyle brand.
Freethy founded Northwoods Gourmet Girl in Greenville, Maine, in 2005 to produce healthy alternatives to common items such as ketchup, mustard, relish, jam, preserves and desert sauces. She’s ready to grow her business, for herself and for Greenville.
The matching grant from the Center’s has helped Freethy launch a new line of branded, food-oriented home goods ranging from dinnerware, glassware, and pottery to kitchen islands, farm tables, chairs, benches, and bookshelves. All products are based on proprietary designs and most are produced by Maine-based woodworkers and craftspeople.
“I want people to experience the food in the environment in which they would enjoy it, for instance by sitting at the farm table,” said Abby. She’s making this possible by converting the first floor of her home into a destination where people can experience her food products in a home-like setting furnished with Northwood Gourmet Girl-branded home goods.
“Greenville is in a resurgence and is rebranding itself, and I want to be a light in that effort,” said Freethy, who hopes to eventually expand to another location as well. “We want the anchor to be here in Greenville.”
Freethy used the grant from the Center for major improvements to her new retail space, located on the first floor of her home. “We’re rebuilding a beautiful porch,” she said. “It will be the focal point. People can sit out there with a glass of wine and taste some of the food. I want to let them interact with the products, enjoy the rocking chairs. And the entire downstairs has been professionally painted–it looks stunning.”
“I’ve been heading in this direction for a while, and the grant has provided a push in the direction we needed to go,” said Freethy. “It has been incredibly helpful. In so many ways, it’s helping us provide an opportunity to mingle and create community, both here in Greenville and with others who visit the Northern Forest.”
Freethy said she hopes to open the new experiential retail space and tasting room in the fall, and to use it as a platform for promoting her expanded line of branded products. Currently, Gourmet Girl products are available for sale on-line and at more than 115 independent retailers across Maine and New Hampshire.
The Center’s investment is leveraging roughly $40,000 in private investment and helping to provide a new destination shopping experience in the Moosehead Lake region.
The Spa at Blair Hill
The Center’s first TIP project, awarded in 2017, assisted in creating a new spa and wellness center at the Blair Hill Inn—a five-star B&B with sweeping views of Moosehead Lake. After connecting the proprietors of the inn with professional support from Mia Kryicos of the international spa consultancy Kyricos & Associates, the Center provided financial assistance to accelerate the project and ensure a top quality final product.
Even with some construction still underway and limited marketing, the Spa at Blair Hill was busy during its first season—booking more than 70 massage and facial treatments and providing income to four treatment specialists from the Moosehead area. With the launch of a new website featuring the spa’s offerings, the proprietors project a 100% growth is spa sales for 2018.
Adding the new spa was a factor in enabling the Blair Hill Inn to secure an exclusive quality certification from Relais & Chateau—a global brand that uses exacting standards to identify quality destination inns and restaurants. The Blair Hill Inn is now one of only 85 properties in North America to receive this recognition, and the new spa will be a key element of the services they offer to guests seeking (and expecting) a truly world class destination experience.
Northeast Whitewater & Moose Tours
In December 2017, the Center awarded a matching grant to assist Jeremy and Jessica Hargreaves to upgrade the online marketing platform for their tour company, Northeast Whitewater and Moose Tours. As the only whitewater guide company in the Moosehead area, and the state’s leading “moose tour” provider, Northeast Whitewater & Moose Tours needed to streamline its brand and increase its ability to track client behavior on its online reservation system.
TIP funding from the Center is enabling Northeast to work with Flyte New Media and Arctic Reservations on these and other activities to improve their ability to target high potential clients and increase bookings.
Moosehead Marine Museum
Also in December 2017, the Center worked with staff of the Moosehead Marine Museum to launch a comprehensive review of its overall marketing program and develop new marketing strategies to increase product sales—particularly tickets for Moosehead Lake tours on the historic steamboat Katahdin.
Built in 1914 by Bath Iron Works, the Katahdin was used as a towboat to haul booms of logs until 1975, including participating in the nation’s last log drive, after which it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Now entering her second centennial, the 225-passenger Katahdin serves as an primary attraction for visitors to the Moosehead Lake region.
A matching grant from the Center is enabling the Museum to contract with Nancy Marshall Communications, one of Maine’s leading marketing and PR firms, to improve its marketing program and its ability to share this unique Moosehead experience with visitors.
Funding for the TIP program comes from a New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) financing, facilitated by the Center, that funded reconstruction of the AMC’s Medawisla Lodge on the edge of the 100-Mile Wilderness, northeast of Greenville. This federal financing program enables the AMC and the Center to invest in a range of projects and programs that support the Maine Woods economy and provide other community benefits. The Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation and JP Morgan Chase provided capital and tax credit authority in support of the NMTC financing.