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June 5, 2018

Skowhegan grabs economic potential of moose lottery by the antlers

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, says Moosefest, an event spread over three days this weekend, involves everything from a scavenger hunt through local businesses to a wild game/craft beer banquet to a country music concert.

Every June the thousands of Maine hunters who hope to get a permit to hunt for moose in the fall gather to watch as about 2,000 names are drawn for the permits. They bring family and friends.

Main Street Skowhegan grabbed the potential by the antlers and the result is the upcoming Moosefest, an event over three days that involves everything from a scavenger hunt through local businesses to a wild game/craft beer banquet to a country music concert.

And, of course, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's moose permit lottery.

"We've spent nearly $25,000 on just the marketing," said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. That effort was boosted by a $9,500 marketing grant from the Maine Office of Tourism that had to be matched.

Cannon said the town knew from the start it was a good investment.

The moose permit lottery was held in Augusta until 1999. Since then, communities across the state submit proposals and the winning venue for the following year is announced at the the lottery.

"We hold the drawing in different areas of the state so that people can have the opportunity to be part of it first hand," Chandler Woodcock, commissioner of the state department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said in a 2017 news release. "Nothing pleases us more than to have members in the audience react to being selected."

The community determines how extensive the event will be. Last year's, in Caribou, was a one-day festival at the town's recreation center.

When Bethel hosted the moose lottery in 2015, the three-day event it built around it drew about 5,000 people to the town.

Last year, there were 54,003 applications for permits and 2,100 were allotted. About 49,000 of the applications were from Maine hunters — 90% of the permits go to state residents.

Skowhegan's proposal to host the festival specified that 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the Skowhegan State Fair, and the fairgrounds on U.S. Route 201 is where most of the events will be held.

"We felt that Skowhegan was a great place to host an event like this," she said. "We're in the Maine woods, but we're a central location. We have a great hunting heritage, and we can also draw people into town who may not be that interested [in the moose lottery]."

Data from businesses this weekend will be gathered and compared to the same weekend last year, to see what kind of impact the Moose Fest had on the town.

"This is something that can hugely powerfully impact the bottom line," she said. "And we also hope that once people visit, they'll want to return."

Town 'moose hunt'

Courtesy / Maureen Milliken
Courtesy / Maureen Milliken
Moosefest, which begins on Friday, features a scavenger hunt in downtown Skowhegan.

Cannon said businesses in town have responded with enthusiasm, and the result is a variety of events, including a "moose hunt" scavenger hunt, in which participants follow clues on the moosefest website, figure out which businesses the clues lead to, find the stuffed moose in the business and write down the moose's name.

Those who find all seven stuffed moose at the businesses around town will be entered in a drawing for a $200 Cabela's gift card.

While festival events begin Friday, the scavenger hunt begins Thursday and concludes Sunday.

The hunt has its own page on the Moose Festival website, and Cannon said it's based on wildly popular similar scavenger hunts the town has had for the Holiday Stroll and the Maple Festival.

While the events are taking place at the fairgrounds, businesses from across the town have caught the spirit.

Special on 'Moosetracks' ice cream

Photo / Mike McVey
Photo / Mike McVey
The state moose permit lottery is the core of Skowhegan's three-day Moosefest.

Gifford's ice cream, which is headquartered in Skowhegan, is having a special on its Moosetracks flavor at the ice cream stand on Route 201 near the fairgrounds entrance, restaurants, bakeries and gift shops are featuring moose-themed items.

Cannon said there is no camping at the fairgrounds for the event so that local fairgrounds can benefit from attendees who want to camp.

The lottery itself is Saturday afternoon, from 2 to 5 p.m., at the fairgrounds grandstand. It's preceded by a 1:45 p.m. attempt to set a world record for moose calling.

It will be followed by a 7 p.m. concert by country music artists Phil Vassar and Bryan White.

The festival is largely free of charge. The concert and Friday's wild game and craft brew banquet, which also has live music, are among the few events that have an admission fee.

Monster truck rides and some food and beer events also have fees.

Activities range from a chance to meet Maine game wardens, coloring for kids, vendors, field hunting dog and fly-casting demonstrations, tractor pulls to wagon rides.

Cannon said that the overall effort was designed to draw all types of people to the town, not just those who are hoping to win a moose hunting permit.

"It's really important to us as an organization to get people into Skowhegan to spend locally," she said.

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