PORTLAND (AP) – Fair weather is expected for much of the Independence Day weekend as the peak tourist season gets under way in Maine.

Traffic on the Maine Turnpike will be heavy from Thursday through Sunday, with the highest volumes on Thursday, said turnpike spokesman Dan Paradee. But given the high price of gasoline and the downward traffic trend so far this year, Paradee wasn’t predicting any traffic records.

For the first half of the year, traffic volumes have been down in four of the first six months compared to 2007. In June, overall turnpike traffic was down 4 percent, while the traffic count at the York toll plaza fell by 9.4 percent, Paradee said.

“We haven’t seen anything like that in many, many years,” he said. The decline, he said, is being blamed on high gas prices and June’s spotty weather.

Thunderstorms were expected across much of the state in the overnight hours Thursday, but sunny to partly cloudy skies were predicted across the state from Friday through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures are expected to reach from the mid-70s into the low 80s from Friday through Sunday.

The state’s hotels, restaurants, gift shops and other hospitality businesses were gearing up for crowds.

Some areas of Maine are expecting a strong tourism season while others aren’t so sure, said Pat Eltman, director of the Maine Office of Tourism.

The state is hoping for a strong showing from Canadian tourists due to the strong Canadian dollar and the state’s $230,000 marketing campaign in New Brunswick, Quebec and Nova Scotia, Eltman said.

The state’s “stay-cation” marketing campaign, which encourages Mainers to spend their vacations at home this summer, should also help, she said. The campaign will include radio and TV ads as well as newspaper inserts.

High gasoline prices could also bring people to Maine from Massachusetts and New York who otherwise might choose more distant vacations, she said.

Vaughn Stinson, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, agreed that traffic from Massachusetts and other nearby states seemed to be holding up well, but there were fewer reports of vehicles from more distant states like Ohio.

While higher fuel prices are certainly a factor, Stinson suggested that the overall economic malaise may be a bigger factor in determining summer vacation plans. “That really has people on edge,” he said.

The Coast Guard issued a boating safety alert ahead of the holiday weekend advising boaters to be responsible.

The Fourth of July holiday is both the busiest and the deadliest boating time of the year, the Coast Guard said.

In the past 10 years, there have been 38 boating fatalities on Independence Day on waters in the Northeast, according to the Coast Guard.

AP-ES-07-02-08 1707EDT

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