Bethel, Maine is a recreation hub for western Maine. It’s home to Sunday River ski resort. The town holds the world record for building the largest snowoman and snowoman as part of winterfestivas. It is a destination wedding location. A world-class gem and mineral museum is very close to opening its doors. Bethel has a lot going for it.
Yet, we’ve heard from Bethel residents that they are concerned about demographic trends that face many other Northern Forest communities – an aging population, fewer school-aged children, and lagging wages.
Bethel is working to build on its existing recreation economy. They want to make Bethel a quality place for people to live, and for tourists to visit. Mahoosuc Pathways and many other partners want to build extensive recreational trails that are primarily for the community and second, but also provide diverse activities for tourists, as part of a community revitalization effort.
This week, the town began publicly exploring the acquisition of forestland to create a Community Forest. The proposed property is near the ski resort, and adjacent to important conserved lands. It would provide important access to other town property and could be a place for more trails. A newly established Planning Committee held its first public planning meeting. Dozens of people packed into the Gem Theatre to learn more, ask questions, and contribute to making important initial decisions.
We set Community Forests apart from other examples of town-owned land, because communities drive decisions. The process is often led by a local planning committee, and involves intensive public input. It’s important that the community is in charge of setting goals and directly benefits from the permanent protection of the working forestland.
That’s where our Program Director, Julie Renaud Evans comes in. Julie guides and advises Community Forest planning committees on how to best propose their idea to establish a Community Forest, get helpful input from the community, and come up with goals for the forestland acquisition.
Julie has helped dozens of communities establish Community Forests, serving as a facilitator and advisor. In each community, it is the Planning Committees that do all of the hard work of setting up a Community Forest. We just like to help the process along. We’re excited for the town of Bethel as they take on this project that can provide decades of community benefit, and are glad to be a part of it.