The tourism banners are getting a lot of attention, the kind Bucksport needs years after the Verso Paper mill closed.
Lisa Gant and Alex Pelling stand Friday in front of one of two signs they erected, with the landowner's permission, at the intersection of Route 1 and Main Street in Bucksport. The sign, and another that says "beaten path" and points in the opposite direction, are aimed at getting more tourists to stop in Bucksport while on their way to more crowded destinations such as Bar Harbor. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Some Bucksport newcomers want to see people stop in their town more often.

That’s why they’ve installed two large banners at the intersection of Route 1 and Main Street in Bucksport. And the banners are getting a lot of attention — the kind the former mill town needs.

With white lettering on blue backgrounds, the banners greet motorists on Route 1 crossing the bridge from Verona Island on their way east. One says “authentic Maine town” with an arrow pointing left toward downtown Bucksport. The other says “beaten path” with an arrow pointing right, where Route 1 goes east, and shows a line of backpackers heading off in the same direction single-file.

Located on private property — with permission of course — the signs are the handiwork of Lisa Gant and Alex Pelling, two English expats who own the former Masonic Lodge as well as small tour boats in Belfast and Bucksport.

Ever since the signs went up last Friday, on the eve of the annual Bay Festival, there has been “a buzz” among residents, according to the town manager.

“[The signs] make me smile,” Town Manager Susan Lessard said.

The signs are an effort to address a problem that local leaders have grappled with for years: How to convince travelers to stop in Bucksport instead of turning right to continue to Mount Desert Island, Maine’s tourism mecca. The problem has become more prominent since 2014, when the town’s major employer at the time, the former Verso Paper mill, shut down for good.

The root of the issue is the placement of the causeway that they travel over from Verona Island, which skips downtown. That means that many people never see the town’s business center.

“But never did anyone suggest just putting up a sign,” Lessard said. “I think many local residents have that same reaction — and that people crossing the bridge for the first time are intrigued.”

Pelling and Gant, who are in their 40s, stumbled onto Maine a few years back when they visited while looking for a camper to buy. They were traveling around the world as part of a wedding project they called “2 People 1 Life” when their prior camper broke down in Saudi Arabia. The Class C style of camper they prefer is commonly found in the Northeast, so they came to look for one but then decided they didn’t want to leave.

“Why rush back to the Middle East?” Gant said, as they sat on the deck of their tour boat Out and About at the local marina. “We fell in love with Maine.”

They first settled in Belfast, where they own and operate another tour boat called Back and Forth. A little less than a year ago, they bought the former Masonic Lodge building in Bucksport at the corner of Elm and Franklin streets. They’ve been living there since, renovating the building into vacation rental suites and a retail space, and have fallen in love with Bucksport, too.

“It’s nice to come to Bucksport, where everybody says ‘yes,’” Pelling said, describing the support they have received for their various projects.

The inspiration for the signs was borne out of marketing skills they developed during their global wedding tour, during which they got married 72 times in 65 countries as they traveled around the world.

Before that, they owned an auto body shop in Manchester, England, and dabbled in guerilla marketing when they scrawled a rude message promoting their business on the side of a Porsche and drove it around the city, they said.

Their Bucksport banners take an indirect jab at the crowds that flock into Bar Harbor during the summer, Pelling said.

“It’s a little cheeky,” Pelling said.

But Gant pointed out that Bucksport has everything available elsewhere like restaurants, ice cream shops, antique shops and hotels.

“But here you can also find parking,” Gant said. “We love Acadia and Blue Hill. We don’t want anyone to not go to those places. We just want them to stop here, too.”

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....