"A Walk To Remember...." - As a young, enlisted air crewman in the Navy, I was fortunate to go on several "detachments" (very short trips) to rather unique places. One of these trips was a 2-day trip to a city called Nimes; France. If you are not familiar with Nimes, it is a major city located in southern France with a population of roughly 140,000. As you can imagine, this crew of 12 guys was focused on the nightlife in this foreign town.
We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon and quickly met in the lobby to discuss the plan. We had a mission to fly the next day at roughly noon, and then we were leaving, so we had about 24 hours off. The focus of the crew was clear. The nightlife in Nimes was hopping and we were NOT going to miss the opportunity to be a part of it. A night like this required preparation. We promptly headed off to our rooms to get a few hours of rest before we went to dinner and found the nightclubs.
As I walked out of the lobby, I grabbed a local map of the city and headed to my room. After settling in a bit, I stepped onto a small balcony and looked out at the view. I am not sure what lead me away from the goal of resting up, but I grabbed the map and took a look. The map showed Roman ruins throughout the city and an inset in the corner showed a garden with waterfalls and an observation tower. I was suddenly compelled to abandon my plan and venture out on a walk.
The city was incredible. I stood on a piece of stone that had once been part of the "Via Domitia", a Roman road connecting Italy and Spain. I saw a Roman coliseum, and I trekked all the way to the corner of the map and found that the Jardins de la Fontaine were breathtaking. A commemorative plaque stated that it was built by order of Louis XV in the 18th century. They sat at the base of a small mountain and I took an easy walk to the top. I passed a monk chanting as he strolled slowly up the hill. At the top I found the observation tower with an astonishing view of Nimes. I recall laughing for just a moment at the fact that the rest of the crew was sleeping through this.
On my walk back to the hotel I stumbled across a small city park with a group of men playing some kind of game. I watched for a while and had my first introduction to Petanque. I remember noting that the coat hooks had been on the tree for so long that the tree had grown around them and only a small part of the hook was showing. This was a game so ingrained in their culture that men and boys alike were playing together on this summer afternoon.
My trip to Nimes changed my military experience completely. I was struck by how much I would have missed if I had focused on the nightlife and missed the beauty of this amazing city. I made a pledge to embrace the culture in every city I visited from that point forward and it made a huge difference.
Why are you reading this story? It's simple, a map changed my life, and my 22 years in the service forever. It was not a big map, not very fancy as I recall, but it existed. It existed because a local organization created the map to show people the City of Nimes - and it worked! The importance of this map is only becoming clear to me now, 27 years later, as I sit in my office at the Chamber.
This isn't really about a map however, it's about promoting a region. Thousands of people come to the greater Augusta region and never see all that we have to offer. They come for a business trip, a visit to the state house or a vacation in one of our lake communities and rarely venture past the purpose of their trip. We need to reach those people with a focused message.
Marketing our region is no small task. It is the job of each community to attract visitors to their area. We ALL need to help get the word out. You each need to look at how your business is contributing to the cause. If we can share the incredible benefits, beauty and attractions of our region, it will bring more visitors. All it takes is one visit to the Kennebec Valley to turn a visitor into a resident and employee. This growth leads to a stronger business climate.
We at the chamber head this marketing effort through a wide variety of media. We create promotional print material, films, social media promotion and radio/television advertising. We get no financial return on these efforts. We pay for this through the sponsorship of community and business events. We need your help. When you sponsor an event, no matter how small, we are better equipped to do more. Please help us reach that visitor that didn't know about the Maine State Museum, the fantastic businesses or the amazing walking paths throughout our area. Every dollar you provide helps us reach another person. Let's keep our visitors awake and engaged!