A new state government initiative to boost outdoor recreation is both exciting and very much needed. I am particularly delighted that Carolann Ouellette was selected to lead this effort.

Carolann directed state government’s tourism office for many years, doing a superb job. In recent years she managed Maine Huts and Trails. I’m very glad she’s back working for everyone in the outdoor recreation business.

The new Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation in the Department of Economic and Community Development was created last fall for a very limited time. I’m hoping Gov. Janet Mills will make this project permanent.

Carolann told me, “One of the biggest things is to create a truly collaborative effort across state agencies with regards to outdoor recreation, not only for marketing, but for planning, communications, events, getting more people outdoors and more including the Destination Development work happening across the Maine Woods.” A great goal important to all of us and to our economy.

I have a particular concern about the diminished number of hunters in the Maine woods, particularly the sharp decline in nonresident hunters. This has had a very negative impact on our outdoor industry, especially sporting camps.

At the 2018 Northern Forest Outdoor Recreation Symposium, these goals were raised as a challenge to the New England region: “Collaborate across the region to invest in rural workforce and reverse out-migration. Work regionally to build the skills training across multiple sectors, and the outdoor recreation infrastructure necessary to attract/retain skilled workers and drive entrepreneurial interest.  It’s going to take everyone working together to advocate for investments in people and communities.”

I like the idea of working with neighboring states on this.

We enjoy $8.2 billion in consumer spending annually, which funds 76,000 direct jobs and generates $548 million in local and state taxes and $2.2 billion in wages and benefits. Maine’s outdoor industry is a significant part of our economy, but it could be even bigger.

The new initiative includes destination development, collaboration, messaging/branding, small business support, and advocacy funding.

The  current focus includes: outreach to Maine industry stakeholders, building an outdoor recreation coalition, developing working relationships with other state agencies focused on outdoor recreation, building awareness and support for the outdoor recreation industry and its contributions to the economy, and reconnecting with destination development work. The group also wants to permanently establish the Office of Outdoor Recreation, establish strong connections to the other state directors and raise awareness of Maine’s office nationally, sign onto the Confluence Accords, and have active participation in the development of the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

Moving forward, they hope to assemble a team from across state agencies to work collaboratively on outdoor recreation programs, projects and planning including branding and marketing, identify research gaps and develop data needed to analyze impacts of outdoor recreation and support future planning, develop a strategic plan, develop a communications plan for industry stakeholders and continue to build strong partnerships, engage with organizations focusing on workforce and business attraction; and economic development broadly, organize an annual Outdoor Recreation Summit, participate at the national level raising awareness of Maine as a leader in the industry, and connect outdoor recreation businesses to critical resources.

Yup, Carolann will be busy. These are all good ideas, and important if we are going to grow our outdoor economy. And here are a few ideas I have for this effort.

We need to do a better job of protecting and managing our fish and wildlife, from moose to brook trout, the things that bring tourists, hunters, and anglers to Maine. One important improvement would be to provide our Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife with some public funding.

The loss of deer in the north woods was devastating to outdoor businesses and rural towns, and the diminished population of moose, due to ticks, is causing lots of problems for moose watching businesses. At our camp in the north woods, we used to have moose in the yard every day. In each of the last three years, we’ve only seen a single moose there.

We must recognize tourist attractions like birding, which get almost no recognition and state support even though lots of birders visit Maine to see specific species. My wife Linda and I, since we became avid birders about 10 years ago, have been impressed with the number of birders we see in places like Monhegan Island. Birding is a very big part of the economy out there.

Well, I don’t want to overwhelm Carolann with suggestions, so I’ll stop for now. But I look forward to continuing to follow and participate in this very important initiative, hoping it will be a big success.

 

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at georgesmithmaine.com.

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