PROSPECT — Dreary weather took a toll on attendance rates at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory this season.
But things turned up in the fall, when the observatory experienced its busiest September on record.
“We had our best September ever, but overall the numbers were down about 12 percent,” said Maine Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Latti.
Persistent rain in May, June and July dampened attendance at many area attractions. Latti said the number of observatory visitors began to rebound in August followed by a great September.
Overall attendance for the season, which stretched from May 1 to Oct. 31, was 58,372. In 2008, 66,387 visitors took the one-minute elevator ride to the top of the 420-foot observation tower. In its first season, the observatory attracted 71,991 visitors, according to a press release.
Ticket revenues support operating costs. There was $123,000 in revenue in 2009 and $155,000 was generated in 2008.
“We are operating in the black,” Latti said.
Ticket sales support staff, maintenance and services costs. Leftover proceeds are used for improvements to the facility, equipment, grounds and informational materials, such as signs and kiosks.
The observatory is owned by the DOT and operated by the Department of Conservation with the help of the Friends of Fort Knox. It is accessed through the Fort Knox Historic Site. The Friends of Fort Knox are responsible for ticket sales. An adult combined entrance ticket for the fort and observatory is $5.
The observatory elevator, the fastest and tallest in the state, had some problems early in the season.
It went out of service six times prior to the July Fourth weekend. Latti said the problem was due to moisture in the observation tower that affected the electrical components. He said the moisture triggered sensors which caused the elevator to stop.
“At no time was it unsafe,” he said.
Stanley Elevator replaced circuitry in the elevator and increased the maintenance schedule. The company worked full time at the observatory for five days around the fourth of the July. Latti said there were no further problems.
He said six stoppages was not a significant number considering the tens of thousands of trips the elevator makes.
“By elevator standards, it’s been a very reliable elevator,” he said.
He said maintenance of the elevator provides some unique challenges because of the distance it travels without stopping. Elevators typically recalibrate at each stop. The observatory elevator travels over 40 stories without stopping.
Those who make the trip to the top are treated to 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape from three observation decks.
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory project was approved in 2003, after major structural problems were uncovered on the Waldo-Hancock Bridge. It is one of only three bridges with an observatory in the world. The others are in Thailand and Slovakia.
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