The University of Maine at Presque Isle has received a $7,500 enterprise marketing grant through the Maine Office of Tourism (MOT) Marketing Partnership Program to promote the Maine Solar System Model. The largest scale model of the solar system in the western hemisphere, and the second largest such model in the world, the Maine Solar System Model extends for nearly 100 miles along U.S. Route 1, from the Sun at UMPI to the dwarf planet Eris in Topsfield.

“We are so pleased to receive this MOT support for the Maine Solar System Model, given its significant impact on local tourism,” Debbie Roark, UMPI Executive Director for University Advancement and External Affairs, said. “As a community, we are excited to increase visibility and awareness of the model across our state and beyond, by providing a new interactive website and increased promotional efforts.”

Established by UMPI and the northern Maine community, the Maine Solar System Model was built entirely by volunteers as a community project, with all materials and labor donated. Volunteers included a consortium of 12 schools and hundreds of businesses and individuals throughout northern Maine. This three-dimensional model is presented at a scale of one mile equaling one astronomic unit (AU). One AU is the distance from the earth to the sun, or 93,000,000 miles, meaning a person traveling at seven miles an hour would be moving at the speed of light.

UMPI science faculty member Dr. Kevin McCartney has served as the solar system model coordinator since the project’s inception.

“From personal experience, I can say that this model attracts a significant number of tourists to northern Maine and improves interest in science among the students in Maine’s largest County,” McCartney said. “Community organizations and businesses have also shown continued support by assisting in the movement and refurbishment of planets, as well as work on the sites where the planets are displayed. This is a community project in every sense of the word.”

The MOT marketing enterprise grant allows UMPI to develop new photography, a promotional video, interactive website, advertising on social media, and a new brochure. As part of the grant, UMPI is partnering with many Aroostook organizations, including Aroostook County Tourism, Northern Maine Development Commission, Aroostook Partnership, and Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. In collaboration with the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, the new brochures developed will be distributed to all 62 chamber offices across Maine and be placed in the four Maine Visitor Centers and kiosks in Kittery, Yarmouth, and New Hampshire.

MOT enterprise marketing grants support tourism marketing projects aimed at increasing visitations to the applying destination: “The winning grant applications were all for projects that strengthen the existing attractions or events and help take them to the next level,” MOT Director Steve Lyons stated in a press release announcing the year’s enterprise marketing grants. “As we transition from recovery to reinvigorating Maine’s tourism industry, promoting assets like these will be key to our success.”

The Maine Solar System Model combines the fun of a scavenger hunt with a science education experience like no other—the chance to witness the sheer expanse of the solar system by driving it mile by mile.

“The Maine Solar System Model is an attraction unique to Aroostook County; as such it is featured prominently in the Aroostook County visitor guide published by Northern Maine Development Commission and Aroostook County Tourism,” said Robert Clark, Executive Director NMDC. “Our tourism hotline also receives calls inquiring about the model from families with younger children who want to visit each stop along the solar system.”

“The Maine Solar System Model has been a long-standing tradition and tourism draw for Aroostook County,” Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce Director LaNiece Sirois said. “The Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce is a proud supporter of this effort as it brings joy to many families in a safe and physically distanced way. We look forward to the new brochures and providing the vehicle to circulate the fact that we have this amazing, not-to-be-missed, attraction in northern Maine.”

Original construction on the Maine Solar System Model was completed between 1999 and 2003 with nine planets and seven moons. It was expanded to include three dwarf planets in 2008. Improvements for the sun and an expansion including two additional dwarf planets are planned. The model has been featured in various national magazines, including Smithsonian and Air and Space.

“The Maine Solar System Model is a very unique tourism attraction in that it hasn’t been impacted by COVID-19. It’s a naturally socially distanced activity and it allows families and individuals to tour and engage in a safe way,” Roark said. “It has become an incredibly special tourism destination for so many people over the years and we’re excited to extend this offering to a wider audience.”

The Maine Office of Tourism is an office within the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development charged with administering a program to support and expand the state’s tourism industry and promote Maine as a tourism destination. For full information on MOT programs, events and resources, visit the Maine Tourism Partners website at MOTPartners.com. For more information on the Maine Office of Tourism, visit www.visitmaine.com.

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