On a map of northern Maine, stick an imaginary pin in the middle of Moosehead Lake. Now draw a circle with a 25-mile radius using that point as its center.

Within the circle are the 39-mile-long lake with all its inlets and islands; the nearby Spencer, Kineo and Little Kineo mountains; the Appalachian Trail as it enters the 100-mile Wilderness and the final stretch to Katahdin; the AMC’s newly renovated Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback lodges; snowmobile trails that you can literally take to Canada; fly-fishing opportunities in the headwaters of the Kennebec River; the second-oldest golf course in New England; Gulf Hagas, often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East; a steamboat that’s a remnant of a bygone era when thousands of tourists spent their summers in grand hotels and rustic camps.

Those are just a few highlights. Add to them the prime boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing spots known by locals and those who come back to the Moosehead region year after year and have acquired their own local knowledge. They’re all facets of “America’s Crown Jewel,” the branding initiative for the Moosehead Lake region launched in spring by international branding consultant Roger Brooks and a grassroots group organized by the Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Corp.

Problem is, by and large, many are hidden from view. It’s impossible to miss the lake and its obvious scenic beauty, but finding those other attractions and recreational opportunities requires the help of Siri or the latest version of DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer.

That could change come next spring or early summer, when the Moosehead Lake EDC and the 17-member America’s Crown Jewel Branding Leadership Team plan to install “wayfinding” signage designed by Axia Creative, a company based in West Palm Beach, Fla., that specializes in “strategic branding, thematic wayfinding and compelling visual communications.” The project is seen as a critical first step in implementing Brooks’ multi-year plan to enhance the Moosehead region’s appeal as a “memorable destination.” The overarching goal is to create a year-round economy that will help turn around the region’s decades-long population decline.

Luke Muzzy, president of the Moosehead Lake Region EDC, says Axia Creative has a portfolio of dozens of wayfinding projects across the country, Canada and the Caribbean islands. Instead of simply connecting dots on a map with unappealing road signs, the company emphasizes branded wayfinding, which it defines as “connecting people with experiences.”


“It starts in Portland and we’ll go from there,” Muzzy says. “This is a tangible outcome of our branding initiative that will have a huge positive effect on the area. We all know how to get to these places because we live here, but if we’re really going to be a world-class destination we really need to ‘up our game’ so that visitors know how to get to those places as well.”

Muzzy expects that implementing Axia’s recommendations could cost in the neighborhood of $250,000. In the meantime, he says, the leadership team is assessing potential sites for wayfinding signage.

Muzzy says the branding team and the Moosehead Lake Region EDC will be pursuing an “all of the above” fundraising approach — reaching out to local businesses, applying for grants and funding from state, regional and municipal sources — to help pay for the wayfinding signs.

In unveiling the “America’s Crown Jewel” initiative in April, Roger Brooks emphasized the plan isn’t simply about attracting tourists. “We are going to put Moosehead Lake on the map as a terrific place to live, raise a family, own a business and visit,” he said at the time.

Brooks’ emphasis on the human elements of community — over the more common notion of scenic natural beauty as the defining trait of a “memorable destination” — resonates strongly with Amanda Hunt, co-owner of Northwoods Camp Rentals with her husband, Andrew. She grew up in Greenville and began working at the vacation rental business as a summer job after graduating from Greenville High School in 1999. Continuing to work there part-time while attending the University of Maine, she and her husband purchased the business from former owner Bruce Porter in 2005.

“I’m fortunate to be able to come back,” she says. “We’ve had to be entrepreneurs and find our niche. My husband started a landscaping business in summertime and plowing in the wintertime to help me as I run this business.”


A member of the Moosehead EDC and the branding leadership team, Hunt says she and her husband are committed to the region’s branding initiative because it’s a grassroots effort to reverse the region’s decades-long population decline. The team’s first step, which has already been accomplished, was to trademark “America’s Crown Jewel” as its logo and brand.

“Our goal is to increase the seasonal economy from three months to eight to 10 months in order to provide more jobs and have a year-round economy,” she says. “That’s what will attract families and help keep our school populated. … We are at a turning point in time. We need to focus on our economy, bring back jobs and get us back to where we are on a sustainable course as a community.”


Another facet is history, which is what brought Liz Cannell back to the Moosehead region after a 25-year career working for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and then the national organization in Denver, Colo.

In accepting the job as executive director of Moosehead Marine Museum and Katahdin Cruises three years ago, Cannell is following in the footsteps of her father, the late Duke McKeil, the museum’s previous director who had led the successful effort to get the historic steamboat Katahdin back on the lake as a cruise vessel.

“I came here by choice,” she says. “This is where I vacationed as a girl growing up, but this is home. This is ‘community’ the way I remember it being when I grew up. It’s the people who are here that drew me. Everybody looks out for each other.”


Built in 1914 at Bath Iron Works, Cannell says, the steamship Katahdin spent its early years transporting tourists, mail and supplies to the Mt. Kineo Resort halfway up the lake. In 1940 it was sold to a precursor of Scott Paper Co. and was used for the next 35 years as a towboat hauling timber across the lake. Having no other plans for the vessel, the paper company sold it for $1 to local citizens who wanted to preserve it as an historic landmark and a floating museum. A few years later, she says, after learning from a marine surveyor the vessel was seaworthy, her father and other local residents launched a campaign to restore it as a cruise boat for visitors, running tours from July through mid-October.

“That’s our primary exhibit,” she says. “Nobody goes on this boat without falling in love with it and this lake. This enterprise [the Katahdin] has a very measurable impact. It’s a very real economic driver for this region.”

But Cannell is quick to make the point that tourism is only one element of the branding initiative.

“Our brand promise is about beauty and scenery and a way of life,” she says. “It’s about ‘working to live’ rather than ‘living to work.’ You can have a life here. When you come up over Indian Hill, you feel all the cares and worries fall off you. Now I live and work where I used to vacation. And that’s a happy ending.”


Scott Harding, a broker with Folsom Realty Group, located a block from the Moosehead Marine Museum, shares those strong feelings about the branding initiative’s emphasis on community. He’s lived in the Moosehead region his entire life and applied to be on the branding leadership team, in part, because three of his four children have already left the area to find jobs elsewhere.


Year-round jobs, he says, are the key to the region’s future.

“There are a lot of people who have their eyes on this,” Harding says. “We’re going to be a model for rebranding and reorganizing small communities in Maine. That’s why we’re going to do it right.”

Alison and Scott Snell are the husband-and-wife owners of Wilsons on Moosehead Lake, a small colony of year-round rental housekeeping cottages on the western shore of the lake near Rockwood. Each cottage has a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains, including Katahdin in the distance. Nearby, rapids below a dam at the headwaters of the Kennebec River offer fly-fishing opportunities for trout and salmon.

Established in 1865, Wilsons has been a Snell family business for 32 years, with Alison and Scott taking it over from his parents 13 years ago.

“We have guests with different backgrounds, who come from all over,” says Alison, one of the 17 members of the branding leadership team. “What really gets them here is how we’re our own little village of cabins on the lake. When they get here, they feel the rest of the world stops. Here we hear the loons and water flowing over the dam. We have people who come here and say, ‘We slept here like no place else.'”

Scott, a registered guide since 1989 who grew up on the shores of the lake, and Alison, who grew up in Dover-Foxcroft, can’t imagine living anywhere else.


“When the fog is coming off the lake and river and the fall foliage is glowing in the sunshine — Wow! — it’s like no other place on earth,” he says.

“A lot of the reason people come here is the serenity,” says Mark Gilbert Jr., co-owner with his father of Moosehead Marina, located on the Moose River, which empties into the lake near Rockwood. His father is celebrating his 36th season at the marina, which has been operating on the western shore of the lake for at least 50 years. “They come because they feel they have their own piece of the world right here.”

There are 650,000 people living within a 150-mile radius of the lake. In his April presentation, Brooks noted that if the region simply attracted 300 more visitors a week for 40 weeks a year, lodging establishments, restaurants and other businesses would be full and the communities of Rockwood and Greenville would see new jobs being created.

If you’re lucky enough to join Gilbert for a boat ride across the lake to the Kineo peninsula (as I was), that goal seems eminently doable.

Zipping alongside Hardscrabble Point at the northern end of the Kineo peninsula, Gilbert points to the looming 800-foot cliff of the eastern side of the mountain. Long before the steamboats of the 19th century and the 20th century powerboats, Native Americans in birchbark canoes paddled across the lake to mine Kineo’s rhyolite flint, which they used to make arrowheads and hatchets as well as to trade with tribes in southern New England.

“That’s Kineo in your face,” he says, as the boat zooms beneath the cliff. “Isn’t that sweet? There’s nothing better.”

Gilbert’s boat tour winds up on the southern tip of the peninsula, home of the Mount Kineo Golf Club, the second oldest golf course built in New England, and the historic Oak Lodge, which offers weekly rentals and B&B accommodations. Under new ownership, the golf club has seen improvements to several fairways and the clubhouse. A water shuttle takes golfers to and from Rockwood, located about a mile directly across the lake.

That’s an important part of history to remember: It wasn’t too long ago, when rail travel was the primary way to get there, that the Moosehead Lake region was a destination highly sought after, a gateway for urban-dwellers seeking recreation experiences in Maine’s North Woods, among them Teddy Roosevelt.

“We already have the ingredients we need to be ‘America’s Crown Jewel,'” Gilbert says. “The branding initiative is all about delivering on that promise.”

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