BELGRADE — Most of the 5,000 people — in fact, 80 percent of them — who visited the Maine Lakes Resource Center this past summer were from away.

When they left the building, they took with them educational materials about lakes, including pictures of invasive plant species, descriptions of best management practices in lakes regions and maps of Belgrade that included hiking trails and kayaking routes.

The visitors were interviewed by three college interns who worked with the center on a marketing study.

“I want to know more about these people who are coming to the center,” said Kathi Wall, program director of the Maine Lakes Resource Center, which is based in Belgrade Lakes. “We’re interested in promoting the lakes as a kind of eco-destination. The more we can promote that, the better chance we have of saving and improving the lake quality.”

The study itself was designed by Michael R. Donihue, professor of economics at Colby College, and the interns came from Colby, the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“We found out that 50 percent of the people that come to the Maine Lakes Resource Center are visitors and 30 percent are seasonal,” she said.

Of those visitors, 62 percent had not been to the center before, and the remainder were returnees who brought other people with them. The center opened in 2011.

“Most of them were coming for some kind of scheduled activity or were there out of curiosity,” Wall said. “They walked away with all kinds of conservation information to take back to their home bases.”

Much of the information was contained on tiny “zines” — handmade, folded fliers that Wall described as “mini graphic novels.” The fliers depicted lakeshore buffers and invasive plants, and QR codes that can be scanned into many cellphones to link the reader with more information on the Department of Environmental Protection website.

Wall recently shared the survey results at a meeting of the Belgrade Lakes Region Business Group.
One of the group’s members, Diane Oliver, of Day’s Store, said later she, too, noticed an uptick in the number of visitors and customers and business.

“I think it was a tremendous summer,” Oliver said. “There seemed to be lots of people around, very happy, having a great summer and excited with the village and all it had going on. It seemed to be a much more upbeat, positive kind of summer.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]