In this May 15, 2021, file photo, visitors at a waterfront park in Bar Harbor. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Both tourism and optimism are on the rise in Maine heading into summer, and not just in the typical tourist destinations you might expect.

Memorial Day weekend travel around the state was up 42 percent from last year, according to data from the Maine Department of Transportation. The statewide number of vehicles counted by the department from Friday to Monday was still down 8 percent compared with pre-pandemic numbers in 2019, but the significant bump compared with last year offers a hopeful snapshot into Maine’s recovery.

In particular, it’s noteworthy that some more rural areas of Maine actually saw increases in traffic counts even compared with 2019.

Penobscot County’s own Springfiled saw a 12 percent increase on Route 6 compared with 2019, for example. Other counting sites in Ashland, Dexter and New Portland also saw increases.

New Portland might not be turning into the new Portland when it comes to tourism volume, these numbers do speak to tourism gains in more rural parts of Maine. Kerrie Tripp, executive director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Bangor Daily News writer Jessica Piper that these increases fit with a pattern of growing tourism in the highlands of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, for example.

“[Tripp] noted that some remote destinations had seen an increase in visitors between 2019 and 2020 — even as overall tourist visits declined substantially in Maine — as more Mainers vacationed within the state,” Piper wrote in a recent story.

It would seem then that Maine people really did embrace the idea of “Staycationland” and ventured around the state while helping to support the local hospitality industry during a year of historic losses.

While some coastal centers, particularly in southern Maine, still didn’t make it back to pre-pandemic vehicle counts over Memorial Day weekend, the optimism is palpable up and down the coast.

As BDN writer Bill Trotter observed, “If not for the face masks many people wore as they roamed the streets of Bar Harbor, it would have looked like a Memorial Day weekend like any other.”

Business owners who Trotter spoke with, like Jeff Curtis of Sherman’s bookstore, sounded bullish heading into the summer.

“A year ago, Sherman’s was fighting for survival,” Curtis said. “This year, we are extremely optimistic that 2021 will be our busiest year ever.”

Eben Salvatore, a local operations manager for Ocean Properties, which owns and operates several hotels in Bar Harbor, said June bookings have been higher than recent pre-pandemic years.

“Traditionally there are a few quieter weeks [after Memorial Day] until kids get out of school leading up to the Fourth of July, but this year we got much busier much sooner and the demand looks strong right into the fall,” Salvatore said. “The amount of traffic this weekend is such a welcome sight for so many people. It’s great to be on the road to recovery.”

As it turns out, working to protect public health has some economic payoffs as well. Clearly safety is still on the minds of visitors, even as they decide to travel. And it helps that Maine has done well in limiting the spread of the virus and getting vaccines into arms.

Some of the success can be attributed to geography, some of it to good governance, some of it to federal support — but ultimately, we’ve of the opinion that a good chunk of it was Mainers looking out for one another.

Many Mainers have followed the advice of public health experts. They have supported local businesses. They have donated time and resources to neighbors in need. They’ve worn masks. They’ve gotten vaccinated. They’ve helped get us to where we are today as a state.

Out-of-state visitors said they feel safe visiting Maine, having taken note of how the state has handled the pandemic.

“I mean Maine, it feels safe. It feels like home for me,” Timothy Horan, who was visiting Kennebunk, told CBS affiliate WGME.

Some visitors said they’d still be wearing masks and social distancing as people ease back into normal. And it’s OK for that process to happen at different speeds for different people.

COVID-19 isn’t completely in the rear-view mirror, but Maine is heading into the summer tourism season with some strong headwinds. If Mainers are wondering where to give the credit, they can start by looking in the mirror.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...