By William Anthony, Docent / Inventory Selection and Bruce Bykowski, Docent / Treasurer for ALF’s chapter, Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse
The 2022 visitor season at the iconic Pemaquid Point Lighthouse marked a welcome return to near normalcy after two seasons seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Friends of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse’s (FPPL) 2020 season was cancelled—and the 2021 season was shortened and the number of days we opened each week was reduced due to a more limited docent pool. FPPL hosted noticeably more international visitors in 2022, likely due to more relaxed COVID restrictions and, in spite of rising gas costs, we hosted more visitors from all around the United States. 2022 also marked a fresh and promising start to friendlier relations with leaders in the town of Bristol, which owns the land surrounding Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
Bruce Bykowski, FPPL treasurer, was able to reconstruct the historical donation and visitor numbers as far back as 2017. He reports that over the three pre-COVID seasons, 2017 to 2019, the annual visitor count stabilized slightly over 35,000. Our annual donations during that same period were also stable, with the average donation per visitor around 62-cents.
Even though the 2022 seasonal visitor count (25,097) was down about 30% compared to the stable pre-COVID years, our total 2022 donations were only down about 10% compared to 2018 and 2019, and the average donation per visitor was up 27% to 79-cents. (We believe that with renewed effort and by keeping better track of our actual inventory, we might be able to raise that average to $1/person in the future.)
One factor behind the increase in our per capita donations in 2022 may have been our decision in the spring to change our approach to the items we display in the vestibule area for visitors to select in return for donations. FPPL agreed that the visitor area ought not to attempt to serve as a “gift shop,” with more than a dozen and a half items on display, many of them (e.g. lunch boxes and thumb drives) having little or no connection to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.
FPPL therefore decided to reduce the number of items we offer for visitors’ donations and improve the display of these items and the signage in the small visitor area. In the past, docents and visitors alike were often unsure what the suggested donation was for each item—and there was such a wide display of items, this led to longer waiting times in the small visitor room, as guests mulled over the selection.
We therefore decided to focus on around a dozen items, which would be relevant to the lighthouse and, if possible, made in Maine. This season FPPL reduced the suggested donations for the outdated items and “cleaned house.” We added bottled water to our guest center since COVID precautions necessitate that most guests now wait outdoors in the warm sun. We also added a fine new book about Pemaquid Lighthouse to our shelves and will continue to strive to offer primarily items made in Maine, with a direct relationship to lighthouses in general (e.g. the Lighthouse “Passport”, which is not easy to obtain!) and to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in specific.
Attracting and keeping enough docents (and backups) to staff our all of our visitor hours remains an ongoing challenge. A number of experienced (older) docents decided to retire during the COVID years, but in 2022, we welcomed three new docents at our lobster dinner in June (and feted Marty Welt for his two decades of outstanding leadership). We will continue to encourage more volunteers to join our docent corps through word-of-mouth and pieces in the Lincoln County News. As an ALF chapter that is now over 20 years old, we will also need to consider that our loyal leadership is graying and encourage new docents to step up.
We Pemaquid docents look forward to another lively and productive year in 2023, helping visitors learn more about one of Maine’s iconic lighthouses. FPPL docents enjoy regaling visitors from far and wide with the history of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse—and we’re rewarded every day with their happy smiles.
In four-plus years, in 2027, Pemaquid Point Lighthouse will be 200 years old so we will need to start planning the festivities this year!