Park Known For FDR Home Short On Visitors

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's family began vacationing on Campobello Island, in the Bay of Fundy, in the early 1880s. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park used to attract around 150,000 visitors a year, including tours of FDR's home. Maine Public Radio's Jay Field reports it's still trying to recover from economic hard times, while attracting new visitors.

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This weekend, marks the 50th anniversary of the bridge linking Campobello Island to Lubec, Maine. The island was where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's family made its summer home. Today, tourists can visit a park and museum there. And as Maine Public Radio's Jay Field reports, this park is trying to attract new visitors.

JAY FIELD, BYLINE: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's family began vacationing on Campobello in the early 1880s. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park, with its interactive museum, hiking trails and tours of the FDR home, used to attract around 150,000 visitors a year. Ron Beckwith is the park's superintendent.

RON BECKWITH: Our visitation dropped off pretty significantly after 9/11.

FIELD: That's because the park is located in an unusual spot in the Bay of Fundy - between the United States and Canada. The park, with fewer than a thousand year-round residents, is the island's largest employer. After the terror attacks, visits here dropped by a third.

BECKWITH: Customs and immigration on both sides of border became a little trickier to navigate. The U.S. side was particularly concerned about national security.

FIELD: Then came the recession. Nancy Morgan flew up here from her home in Florida with her husband and two kids.

NANCY MORGAN: Sat at the computer and sent him to AAA to get maps. Very excited to see it.

FIELD: Morgan is heading up the path to a stately, red-shingled cottage.

GERARD BOURQUE: Well, welcome to the summer residence of Franklin Roosevelt and his family.

FIELD: Visitors enter at one end of the cottage, where park guide Gerard Bourque greets them.

BOURQUE: This house was built in 1897 and it has 34 rooms. So, it's quite the large summer cottage.

FIELD: It was in 1921, on a visit to Campobello, that the former president came down with the polio that left him partially paralyzed. The park has relied on the Roosevelt estate and enduring interest in FDR's legacy to attract tourists. But that's starting to change a bit. Are we looking east?

VERN MCKIMMEY: Yes.

FIELD: Or west? No, east. Is that Quoddy Head State Park?

MCKIMMEY: Quoddy Head State Park would be to your right.

FIELD: I'm standing with Vern McKimmey, who heads up marketing for the Roosevelt park, on a bluff overlooking the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, linking the island and the province of New Brunswick to the state of Maine.

MCKIMMEY: And if you were on top of the bridge you would be able to see all the way to Grand Manan, which is one of the three maritime Canadian islands. A great place to watch seals fish.

FIELD: Officials from both nations will be on hand to celebrate the bridge's 50th anniversary at a ceremony later today. Besides its stunning vistas, Campobello has a campground overlooking the sea. But the park still hosts 40,000 fewer visitors than it did before 9/11. Officials are hoping the hiking and breathtaking scenes that attracted the Roosevelts here more than a century ago will convince more tourists to pay a visit. For NPR News, I'm Jay Field.

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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