Monday, July 6, 2009

Vacation Close to Home- Weekly column by Senator Collins

The economic downturn and rising gas prices have added a new word to our national vocabulary. “Staycation” combines the fun of the traditional summer vacation with the affordability and convenience of exploring your own backyard.

We Mainers are fortunate to have a truly amazing backyard to explore. From our spectacular scenery, history, and art to our great food, festivals, shopping, and amusement parks, Maine has something for everyone. For Mom and Dad, perhaps the best thing about vacationing close to home is that by the time the kids in the backseat start to chant, “Are we there yet?” -- you’re already there!

According to the American Automobile Association, the typical long-distance vacation costs $244 per day for two people, just for food and lodging. Add in airfare and the rest of family, and it’s no wonder the “staycation” is fast becoming the way to go.

For just a fraction of the cost of a travel-intensive vacation, the possibilities here in Maine are virtually unlimited. With 6,000 lakes, 32,000 miles of rivers, 5,500 miles of coastline, and 17 million acres of forest, there’s plenty of Maine to explore. With our wonderful state parks and family campgrounds, you’re sure to find the perfect “home base” for your explorations. You can “splurge” on a few nights at that charming inn you’ve always admired or an amenity-filled hotel without busting your budget.

From now until well into the fall, Maine’s calendar is filled with festivals and fairs. Whether you prefer lobster, clams, blueberries or the tradition French Acadian ploye, there’s a festival for every palate. From jazz, blues, and rock to folk and classical, there’s one for every ear, and from traditional crafts to contemporary art, one for every eye.

The money-saving staycation is the perfect time to try something new. Go whitewater rafting. Check out Maine’s scenery from the air -- in a biplane, a glider or a hot-air balloon. Take a long ride on our extensive network of bike routes. Journey back through time on the historic Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail. Man the helm of a classic Maine windjammer. Where else but the border-straddling Aroostook Valley Country Club could you tee it up in the United States and putt out in Canada?

The Maine staycation is the perfect way to enjoy a well-deserved break and to have some family fun. It’s also a great way to support the Maine economy in these difficult times. Tourism is a $10 billion industry in our state that generates some 140,000 jobs. These businesses pay local taxes, support charities and community projects, and provide opportunities. Every dollar spent here in Maine strengthens Maine.

The staycation is also eco-friendly. Air travel is a significant contributor of greenhouse gasses. And why burn tanks of gas just to get someplace that’s not as nice as where you already are? There is no more enjoyable way to reduce your carbon footprint than by taking a Maine staycation.

This is not the first time that we have experienced economic distress. The people of America and of Maine have always weathered these storms with confidence and high spirits. I hope to see you all this summer, enjoying a staycation in this beautiful place we call home.

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