Category Archives: October 8

Mike Felton: Bringing focus and creativity to St. George’s new community school

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOfficially on the job since July 1, St. George school superintendent Mike Felton has hit the ground running to get the town’s new municipal school unit not only operational, but also on a trajectory aimed at realizing what up until now has only been an exciting vision of the kind of school St. George wants and needs.

“The two big pieces of our identity are that we are a small school truly based in this community and tied to this community and that we are an expeditionary learning school—a place where you know why you’re doing what you’re doing because it has real-life implications,” Felton says. “These two work together to ensure our students are fully engaged in their learning and to also engage parents, family and the larger community in their learning—to base this school in the history, traditions and values of this community and to give back to this community.”

While the school’s principal is its instructional leader, as superintendent it is Felton’s job to take leadership not only in shaping the school as an educational institution, but also in managing the business side of its operation and in responding to legal and policy issues.

“There are a lot of demands on schools from a lot of different groups—ranging from what goes on in the classroom, to our food and nutrition program, to our health program and so on. But those demands aren’t coordinated,” he explains. “Our philosophy is to be aware of all the demands, but to be flexible enough as an organization to take what comes at us and make it work for us.”

IMG_0080SMFelton says this is where being a small school is an advantage. His office is at the school in easy proximity to its business manager, food service director, personnel manager, principal, teachers and other staff. “We can meet frequently and talk about how we are doing, what we are looking to do and how we can collaborate. Then we can move forward in a coordinated way rather than having people going in opposite directions.”

Especially beneficial about being an independent school, Felton says, is the ability to control the budget. “For what we were paying RSU 13, we have increased our program offerings and staffing. We are now more directly responsible to the town. And we are developing more partnerships.”

In this regard, Felton references the Port Clyde Fisheries Trail map, a recent collaborative project between the school’s 7th graders and Herring Gut Learning Center (to find the map go to herringgut.org). “In creating this map students learned technology skills, science skills, language skills and history skills. We want to make students’ learning as authentic and rigorous as possible. We are in a rural setting, but our kids are getting a rich education. Being our own district we’re able to focus and be creative.”

A graduate of Bowdoin College, Felton’s professional background includes work as an Island Institute Teaching Fellow and educational outreach officer for island schools. He was principal of the Vinalhaven school for five years, during which tenure he also taught history.—JW

PHOTOS: Julie Wortman

Creating a difference for you and your brain

St. George School students Hunter Yattaw and Chris Mathieson used nets to determine what organisms live in the Herring Gut pound.

St. George School students Hunter Yattaw and Chris Mathieson used nets to determine what organisms live in the Herring Gut pound.

by Jaden Petersdorf

This year St. George students Hunter Yattaw, Chris Mathieson and me (Jaden) are involved in a new program at Herring Gut. Three afternoons a week we go to Herring Gut for some hands-on learning. We are growing sugar kelp in Herring Gut Learning Center’s pound.

Before we started, we had to get supplies and information for our project. We had to test the salt water in the growing site for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. We used a hydrometer to test salinity. All this information will tell us if the seaweed will grow healthy. As part of the Department of Marine Resources (D.M.R.) permitting process, we had to draw and measure the perimeter. We used a survey tape and when we found that Hunter’s and my feet were one foot exactly, we used our feet as a measuring tool! We surveyed the species that live in the grow site. We put on waders and with nets scooped the water to find what other organisms lived in the site. We found oysters, steamer clams, razor clams, green crabs, shrimp and fish.

We are having fun and would like to thank Herring Gut teachers Ann Boover and Alex Brasili for offering this course.

PHOTO: Ann Boover

Vacation rentals: the economic impact is significant

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Rentals like this can provide the foundation of a great vacation experience.

By Columbus Day, the vacation season in St. George is pretty much at an end. That means that the people who depend on the income vacation rentals provide hopefully have enough money in the bank to see them through the winter and into spring. “Fishing is our biggest industry here in St. George,” acknowledges St. George native Fletcher Smith, the owner of SummerMaine, a company that manages 34 vacation rentals in St. George. “But I think we overlook the positive economic impact of vacation rentals on the town. There is not only the income from rent, but also the money vacation renters spend. They come and set up shop here. They buy groceries, they explore local galleries, they rent kayaks.”

Justin Ford of On the Water in Maine, agrees. “The person who stays in a hotel or inn is not making anywhere near the economic impact that a vacation renter does.” Ford, who recently joined the St. George Business Alliance, manages 10 properties in St. George. By his conservative calculations gross rental sales in St. George, where he estimates there are about 100 vacation rentals, account for more than $500,000 a year, with an additional $250,000 in local spending.

Both Smith and Ford belong to a recently formed group called Vacation Rental Professionals in Maine that Smith says is trying to promote greater awareness of how much money vacation rentals bring into the state. The group also is watch-dogging legislative proposals to regulate the industry more tightly.

“There is no state license for vacation rentals in Maine,” explains Ford. “Anyone can open up shop and do it. There are only three government regulations in Maine for anyone offering a vacation rental. They must collect a lodging tax and submit it to the state, they must have smoke detectors in all bedrooms and other locations as dictated in the law, and the same goes for CO detectors.”

There have been proposals that sprinkler systems and hard-wired emergency lighting be required of all vacation rentals, as with hotels. Given that vacation rentals are also private homes, Smith says, the impact of such requirements would be both expensive and unsightly. “For a lot of people, renting their home is an economic necessity,” she points out. “They need the rental income to pay their taxes or to cover other expenses. My parents, for example, have a guest house they rent because their waterfront taxes are so high.”

This highlights the fact that by far the greatest number of vacation rentals in Maine—Ford says the number is about 18,000—are offered by the home owner. “Only about 5,000 are professionally managed,” he says, noting that he himself got started in the vacation rental business by renting out his own house to generate some extra income. “You’d be surprised how many people move out of their homes each summer so they can rent them to vacationers—half the people staying in the campground on Route 90 are doing that.”

Other property owners who rent their homes to vacationers or winter tenants do so with retirement in mind. “They buy a house knowing retirement is a long way off, but by renting it they can cover the mortgage and other expenses until they can move in permanently,” Smith says.

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Justin Ford and Mary Bumiller

Mary Bumiller, who now works with Ford at On The Water as the company’s real estate broker, also points to the growing number of people who are purchasing properties purely as an investment. “My specialty is very quickly becoming investment properties the owner can rent,” she says, noting that she is also selling to people who have rented through On The Water and have decided it is time to buy their own place.

Another proposed state law that could have a big impact on vacation rentals is modeled on ordinances that some towns have instituted requiring vacation rentals be for a minimum of one week. Camden is an example. The problem with such a restriction, both Smith and Ford say, is that in places like St. George the period when renters want to stay in a house for a week or more is only about seven weeks long. “During the ‘shoulder’ seasons people often just want to rent for a long weekend and we need to be able to accommodate that to stay in business,” Smith notes.

Fletcher Smith

Fletcher Smith

As professional managers of vacation rentals, both Smith and Ford have spent a lot of time analyzing what it takes to make their businesses successful, which is basically about ensuring that the people renting their properties have a good experience and want to return. Smith points out that this requires property owners to think differently about their properties. “I find I have to convince owners who want to rent their property that they will be part of the commercial rental industry,” she says. “It used to be that in places like St. George anything would rent. But that’s not the case anymore. You have to maintain certain standards so that people will want to come back. The house has to be clean and well-equipped—the grill can’t be rusted, the sheets and towels must be of good quality, the cookware has to be good. You have to remember you are building the foundation for a great vacation experience.”

Ford, who is also a volunteer firefighter, says that maintaining high safety standards is particularly crucial. “You don’t want to wait until something bad happens. That’s why we do full building inspections on all our homes each year. We like decks and railings to be up to a standard building code, we like grills to be appropriately placed, we like emergency preparedness plans in homes, we like them to have land-line phones so guests can easily call 911 in emergencies. In general, we like them to be ‘safer’ than the average home.”

Both Ford and Smith say it is also important that prospective renters and owners alike know what to expect of the rental arrangement. “You don’t want complaints that the renter didn’t know that lobster boats head out of the harbor really early or that cell phone service may not be perfect,” Smith laughs. “And you don’t want to find out that a renter is bringing eight people to stay in a two-bedroom house! We spend a lot of time making sure there is a good fit between the renter and the property.” ­­—JW

PHOTOS: Top, SummerMaine, bottom, Julie Wortman

Using metal to bring animals to life

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Drive by Black Bear, opposite the Kinney Woods Road on Route 131, and you will notice a yard full of metal sculptures—deer in combat, a horse, a wigwam with Indians out front. The Indians were made by Robert “Dan” Daniels, the sculptor of the “St. George and the Dragon” that stands on the lawn outside St. George’s Town Office. But the rest of the pieces displayed in the yard are by Randy Elwell, who apprenticed with Daniels more than 20 years ago.

“I worked with Danny Daniels pounding the metal for his sculptures,” Elwell explains. “One day he had to run some errands and I made a small sculpture of a boy leading a cow. He told me I was the only one that had come to work with him who could just up and make a sculpture without effort. So when he retired he wanted me to keep doing it. It took off from there. I was never very artistic growing up so it kind of surprised me how well I did with it.”

Elwell says some of his favorite pieces were two full-size horses and a full-size dog he created for a woman living in Boston. The sculpture that Elwell found hardest to make was a scarecrow. “I made the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz for a guy in Vermont and I could never do faces but I managed to pull it off,” he says. “But I prefer sculpting animals. Hunting, fishing and being in the woods are things I’ve always loved, things it seems I’ve been doing since I could walk.”

The ideas for his sculptures “just come,” Elwell says. “Sometimes I’ll see something in a picture or when I’m out and about.” But mostly, he adds, he works on commission. “People will buy what I have made, but more often they have an idea and ask me to make it.”

Elwell says his sculptures can be found from the North Pole to the South Pole. “I have pieces around the country, in Europe, New Zealand and other places.”  Elwell does not have a website for his sculptures, so he says he relies on word of mouth for advertising.

RandyElwellSMIn addition to making metal sculptures, Elwell has been a member of St. George’s Volunteer Firefighters Association for about 31 years. “Right now I’m a  a Captain/Safety Officer. I have to make sure scenes and personnel are safe and that the firefighters follow the safety policies and procedures as best they can. I also sometimes run scenes when needed.” He is also in charge of busing and custodial services for the town’s new school district, as well as serving on St. George’s  Select Board.

But although spare time is at a premium, Elwell continues to try to make time to sculpt. “When I accomplish a sculpture,” he says, “it’s a great feeling.”

—JW (Sienna Barstow contributed to this story.)

PHOTOS: Top, Julie Wortman; bottom, Sienna Barstow

St. George makes music!

musicians wildThis year a fun feature of Columbus Day weekend in St. George will be a Saturday of music-making that includes amateur and professional performances sure to please every musical taste. The all-day event is sponsored by the St. George Business Alliance. “We thought a musical focus for the day would be a great way to celebrate what for many of our retail businesses and restaurants is the holiday weekend that marks the end of their busy season,” says Betsy Welch, Vice President of the Alliance. “We are especially grateful to Machias Savings Bank for sponsoring this event with us.”

The day begins with an instrument-making workshop for children and their families from 10am to noon at the Jackson Memorial library. A soup-and-bread lunch benefitting the library’s Pre-K program will be available 11:30-12:30. The library’s workshop will be followed by an afternoon (1-4pm) of open-mike amateur performances at the Odd Fellows Hall in Tenants Harbor, which the organizers are calling “An Afternoon of Epic Music Making.” Michael O’Shea of the Craignair Inn will be the Master of Ceremonies. “We want solo performers and groups of every age, stripe and level of experience to come and join in—people can sign up in advance or at the door on the day,” he says. “We want this to be a truly epic event!” (Email to sign up in advance).

At 4pm the DaPonte, Maine’s premier string quartet, is offering a special pay-what-you-wish concert in the Ocean View Grange at 435 Port Clyde Road in Martinsville. According to DaPonte spokesperson Amy MacDonald, the program ranges “from sunny to tempestuous” and includes work by Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schulhoff.

Live music will also be on hand at the Granite Gallery and Quarry Tavern in Tenants Harbor and at the Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde. See calendar listing for more information.

St. George VANITZ

ABOOVSMDo you know who drives towards Port Clyde on a weekday morning with the plate ABOOV, and returns up the peninsula to her home after a day at Herring Gut Learning Center?—Susan Bates

Who’s behind the wheel? Email your answer! The first reader to respond correctly wins a free business-size ad in the print edition of The Dragon. Terry Smith was the first person to identify COZY A and STUDIO B  as belonging to Kathy Cartwright and Dan Verillo in the September 24 issue.