The pandemic has underscored that access to the outdoors is crucial to our quality of life. To help recover from the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, we must invest in new parks, trails, and public lands in Maine.

This past year, we’ve seen people flock to parks and outdoor spaces like never before – to exercise, to reduce stress and anxiety and to safely spend time with friends and family. The outdoors has often been our only place we can go to connect with our communities. The research backs up what we all intuitively feel when we get outside: Parks and green space relax and restore us and keep us connected to each other. Studies show that spending just 20 minutes a day outside reduces stress and actually strengthens our immune systems.

The rate at which people have turned to the outdoors underscores the need. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, camping across the country last year was up 28 percent, hiking participation grew almost 17 percent, and freshwater fishing grew by 9 percent.

In Maine, use of state parks shattered records. Maine State Parks and Public Lands welcomed 3 million visitors, nearly 100,000 more people than in 2019. Camping rates at Maine State Parks increased by 8 percent in just a year. For example, Bradbury Mountain State Park, a short drive from Portland, saw a 60 percent increase in visitation.

Investing in the outdoors can also provide an opportunity for economic recovery. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending in Maine, and the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that 6.4 percent of all jobs in Maine come from the outdoor recreation sector. As more people have turned to the outdoors for recreation, this consumer spending has increased and that trend will continue, as long as Maine can provide more public places for people to get outside.

This steep climb in use emphasizes the demand for more parks and public lands. We don’t have nearly the supply to meet the needs of all Mainers. Maine has notably less public conserved land than New Hampshire. Even though the states have similar population sizes. And over 65 percent of Maine people don’t have close-to-home access to a public parks and lands. Low-income neighborhoods especially lack access to quality green spaces, at higher rates than other neighborhoods. We believe that every Mainer, no matter where they live, deserves access to our great outdoors.

State funding through the Land for Maine’s Future program is one of the most important tools we have to ensure all Mainers have nearby access to public open space, but the program is nearly out of money. Mainers haven’t had the chance to vote on a Land for Maine’s Future bond in over a decade and once again, lawmakers are considering whether to put a bond proposal before voters in November. Now is the critical time for the Maine legislature to pass a Land for Maine’s Future bond bill.

Well-loved places like Bethel Community Forest, Mt. Blue State Park, Tumbledown Mountain and Downeast Lakes Community Forest exist only because organizations like The Trust for Public Land were able to utilize Land for Maine’s Funding to create them. We have new parks and public lands ready to be created but need new funding to do it.

As we work to recover from the pandemic in the months and years ahead, we must invest in new parks and public lands. To ensure all Maine people have access to the healing power of the outdoors.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.