By: Jessica O'Hare

olympic medalWe’ve cheered on a strong showing of Northern Forest athletes in PyeongChang at the Winter Olympic Games. It’s hard to track down exact numbers, but if you count hometowns, training locations and other connections to the Northern Forest, it's clear that the region turns out great athletes.

We’ve got Chris Mazdzer, Erin Hamlin, Justin Krewson and Erin Sweeney from upstate New York competing in the luge. Troy Murphy competed in freestyle skiing, after Bethel, Maine residents, schools and businesses fundraised to get their hometown hero to the Games. Mikeala Shiffrin, who learned her downhill racing technique at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, took home the gold medal in giant slalom. Susan Dunklee from Vermont and Lowell Bailey from Lake Placid, NY competed for medals in the biathlon. Sophie Caldwell from Vermont competed on the women’s cross-country events. There are more incredible athletes to list, but you can see what we mean. 

The Northern Forest has great mountains and world-class training venues, like Lake Placid, NY—host of the 1980 Olympics—Fort Kent (Maine) Outdoor Center, and Craftsbury (VT) Outdoor Center, and ski schools like Burke Mountain and Stratton Mountain School that draw premiere young athletes. Winter is part of life in the Northern Forest, so it makes sense that that people here love to ski, skate and sled, competitively or just for fun. Our easy access to recreational opportunities contributes to our quality of life. 

Karen Crouse of the New York Times, joined a Vermont radio show and offered: "You move to Norwich[, VT], because you don't need the big urban center, you love the outdoors." She argues that a collective value system builds a philosophy that is based in sports, and forms lasting friendships and a love of the game. "It's about life lessons and skill sets that will help you in your life after sports," she said.

That rationale applies to Northern Forest communities from Lake Placid to Aroostook County. Plattsburgh, NY; Canton, NY; Bethel, ME; Burke, VT are all hometowns of current Olympians, 20 of whom list communities in the states of the Northern Forest as their hometowns. 36 if you count all of New York state.  

We think the region’s wide-ranging outdoor opportunities—summer and winter—make it a great place to raise a family or achieve that elusive work-life balance. We’re working with several communities to help them make the most of their outdoor attractions and establish themselves as vibrant communities for young families and entrepreneurs who want that lifestyle.  

Cross-country skiing through the woods on your lunch break sounds pretty good to us. And who knows, you might see a few Olympic racers while you’re out there!

By: Maura Adams

The Magic City – the City that Trees Built – Lumber Capital of the World. These historic slogans from the region’s prominent mill towns declared their strength and connection to the forests that fed them. They took pride in being the biggest and best at what they did. We know time has brought myriad changes, but we believe the region’s communities can look to the future with hope of being strong again and celebrating their forest roots.

For over 20 years now, the Center has delivered programs to address broad, regionally-based forest economy issues. Recently we added another, very localized approach to our work: exploring ways for towns to capitalize on their forest assets to become energetic and lively—that is, vital—again.

Lancaster Shops

We are especially interested in addressing a fundamental demographic challenge: the steady loss of young people, especially those between 25- to 45-years old, whose children will bring schools to life, new businesses, care for the elderly, participate in civic leadership, and more. We believe that to retain and attract this demographic for the region, we must pay attention to the conditions they need to satisfy their personal, familial and professional needs. These include affordable access to broadband, good schools and hospitals, social opportunities, outdoor recreation, and quality housing.

Over the past year, our foray into community revitalization has led us to three focal communities where we’re learning by testing different approaches. In each location, we’re partnering with local businesses and non-profits, gaining from their local knowledge and relationships, while providing our staff’s combined skills and experience in community development, the forest economy, and other projects across the region.

By: Rob Riley

Reflecting on the past year at the Center reminds me that we are evolving almost daily! I'm proud of the nimble, business-like approach we’re taking to address persistent issues across the 26-million-acre Northern Forest region of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Over the past 20 years, we’ve invested in regional collaboration and advocacy, and in new ways to enhance core elements of today’s forest economy—tourism development, automated wood heat, and wood products manufacturing. We are always looking at the environment, seeking to understand how it’s changing; we work to adapt our programming to serve Northern Forest communities and our mission. 

Building on our existing work, two specific examples of our evolution include:

Strengthening demand for local-sourced wood in commercial construction
We’re increasing the use of locally-sourced wood in commercial construction by working with sawmills, modular home manufacturers such as Vermod and KBS Builders, and manufacturers of “mass timber” designed for multi-story commercial construction. Improvements to these businesses impact hundreds of jobs and millions of board feet of wood. We want to cultivate a culture of research, development AND commercialization necessary for economic resilience.

Putting communities at the center and adding new expertise
We have increased our focus within specific locations, which enables us to deliver multiple program services in focal towns and to leverage new types of work such as high-speed internet and real estate development to assist communities seeking to become more prosperous and resilient. For example, in the Maine West region (Rumford, Bethel, South Paris and Norway) we helped to secure an internet planning proposal on behalf of 27 towns that will guide long-term build out. And in Millinocket, Maine, the Center launched a new housing initiative to meet the emerging demand for housing by entrepreneurs and others who want to be part of the town’s renaissance. 

If not for the Center’s capacity and leadership, neither of these initiatives would be underway. 

By: Maura Adams

Peter Bourne stood at a lectern in Burlington recently, renewable energy leadership award in hand, and smiled. “I’m pretty sure this is the first time people at a climate change conference ever clapped for the owner of a fossil fuel company,” he said, and the crowd clapped even more, laughing in a moment of rare affinity with someone whose bread and butter is, after all, oil and propane sales.

AWH Marketing Pellet DeliveryBut Bourne’s Energy – along with Sandri in Massachusetts, Ehrhart and Vincent’s in New York, and Daigle Oil in Maine, among others – is also helping create a cleaner energy future by expanding into bulk wood pellet delivery and boiler installation. Switching from fossil fuels to wood pellets for heat cuts carbon emissions by over 50%, according to a 2016 study commissioned by the Northern Forest Center (https://northernforest.org/programs/modern-wood-heat/wood-pellet-greenhouse-gas-emissions-study). Companies like these are making significant investments in this sector, because they recognize both the environmental benefits and economic opportunity associated with local, renewable heat.