RUMFORD — With his easygoing manner and knowledge of the area, volunteer Jon Holmes is the perfect greeter for travelers frequenting the Rumford Information Center.
“We get about 8,000 people to sign the (guest) book during the summer — and 50,000 will use the bathroom,” joked Holmes, who volunteers at the center twice a week.
The work is very interesting, he said.
“What I like about it, too, is that everybody who comes in here is on vacation, so they’re happy,” Holmes said. “They’ve all got a good sense of humor.”
Holmes, who has volunteered here for eight years, now runs the center.
“Most of the stuff people want to know is about here, but that’s easy because I’ve lived here for so long,” he said. “We’re on the only east-west highway in the state of Maine, Route 2. A lot of them are Canadians because for one thing, our gas is cheaper. Do you realize that 90 percent of the Canadian people live within a hundred miles of the United States? It’s hard to believe because it’s such a large country.”
Holmes reminisced about some of the interesting people he has met at the center. Some don’t speak English and point to a map for directions. Most of the visitors with kids are looking for places to swim.
“We tell them about Coos Canyon, Screw Auger Falls, there’s a good place just beyond the covered bridge in Newry,” he said. “We try to get most of them to do the Route 17, the Height of the Land, to Oquossoc and then Route 16 into Errol (N.H.), then down 26 or stay on 16; you’re going to come out on Route 2, no matter what.”
But he said that there’s one thing all the visitors want to see — and that’s a moose.
“To me, if the state of Maine was smart, you know where the new turnout they just did is to the Height of the Land?” he asked. “Build a fence in the woods, where nobody can see it, and put three or four moose in there and feed them. And then every year, change them out. I tell you what, if you could guarantee that they would see a moose, oh, man!”
“You and I have seen so many of them, how ugly they really are to look at,” he joked.
Holmes pointed to a world map on the wall with a bunch of pushpins in the corner for visitors to mark where they live. Just this summer, he said, there were pins for every state in the U.S. except West Virginia, as well as New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Italy and South Africa.
“A couple years ago, there was a pin right here (Democratic Republic of Congo),” he said. “A young fella came in, probably in his forties, who looked at that pin and then at me and I asked him, ‘What’s concerning you?'”
“He said, ‘I’ve been trying to get in there for 10 years and fish.’ He said there’s three factions of people in there. If you go from one to the other but you don’t belong, they’ll kill ya.”
“I said, ‘Not in today’s age,’ and he said, ‘Oh, yes they do.'”
The man said that area is also rich with gold and other valuable products.
Holmes said the visitor showed him the river on the map and said that the only way that man could have gotten out was by boat.
“How he made it, I’ll never know,” the man had told Holmes at the time.
“I talked to a few people and they said it’s true,” Holmes said. “Look it up. Here we are in Rumford, Maine. It’s just amazing.”
Holmes said a woman, about 20 years old, had ridden a bicycle from Washington State.
“She put her back wheel in the Pacific and is going to put her front wheel in the Atlantic,” he said. “I told her, ‘If you were my daughter, I’d be scared to death. What do you do at nighttime?'”
The woman told him that she pulls off the road so no one can see her unless it’s cold and rainy, in which case she’d get a hotel room.
Holmes mentioned a visitor from Spain who had come to the U.S. by boat and was touring the area by bicycle.
“He’s been all across Europe,” Holmes said. “Now he’s going all across the United States on a bicycle.
“This is just so much fun. I really, really enjoy it. And the Town of Rumford is fantastic about keeping this plowed in the wintertime, about keeping the garbage clean and the restroom clean.”
The Rumford Information Center is open year round, with summer hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Winter hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Thursday through Sunday.
Holmes noted that all of their travel brochures are free.
“The only thing we charge here are for post cards, and then, can you believe it, Maine maps?” he said. “We give away New Hampshire, we give away Vermont, but we have to buy Maine maps.”
Free Maine maps may be obtained at state-run information centers, he noted.