The Northern Forest has been a travel destination for more than 150 years. For people seeking outdoor recreation and adventure, great hunting and fishing, or just a quiet respite in nature, the region’s vast forested landscape attracts millions of visitors every year – and the tourism industry supports tens of thousands of Northern Forest jobs.


The Center’s Destination Development program builds on this history and the vital role tourism and outdoor recreation play in the region’s economy. Our approach goes deeper than promoting the region as a travel destination. We believe communities across the Northern Forest region have the potential to be highly attractive destinations not just for visitors, but for new businesses and new residents as well.

Many of the assets and amenities that attract travelers and recreation seekers are the same things that make rural communities great places to live and do business. These include easily accessible outdoor recreation opportunities (including customized trails for non-motorized and motorized activities), vibrant downtowns with unique shopping and dining opportunities, dynamic events and cultural attractions, high speed broadband internet access, reliable cell phone service, transportation infrastructure, and a high quality of life.

We believe investment in the assets that ensure quality visitor experiences—and the quality tourism jobs that support those experiences—will also create the conditions that turn visitors into new residents and business owners in the Northern Forest.

That’s why the Northern Forest Center is working to advance Rural Destination Development by:

  • Building local Destination Development capacity and investing in local projects through the Community Destination Academy.
  • Improving and expanding mountain biking opportunities as a strategy for attracting recreation seekers and new residents seeking an active outdoor lifestyle.
  • Offering financial assistance to help tourism providers implement innovations that will strengthen their businesses, expand job opportunities and attract visitors to the Maine Woods.
  • Advocating for creation and support of rural Recreation Destination Areas to enhance the quality of tourism experiences in the Maine Woods, and advancing Destination Development with research and recommendations for the Maine Woods.
  • Coordinating regional efforts including a semi-annual Maine Woods tourism stakeholder retreat.

From 2010 through 2017, the Center also strengthened pathways to livable-wage jobs in the tourism industry by managing workforce and business training programs provided through the Maine Woods Tourism Training Initiative.

For more information about the tourism economy in the Northern Forest, see The Economic Importance of Forest-Based Economies of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont & New York 2013.


The Center has provided focus and direction to groups that represent diverse interests within Maine’s tourism industry. Its leadership has helped advance practical, actionable steps for developing tourism strategies and marketable product.

—Carolann Ouellette, former Director, Maine Office of Tourism

Whose Land Is This?

Tourism providers depend on a vast landscape of mostly privately owned forest for their guests to enjoy. In Maine, 92% of the forest is privately owned, and most of that is managed to produce forest products, providing jobs for 104,000 people. By managing the land for forest products, landowners are keeping forests as forests, rather than converting them to other land uses.

Most large private landowners traditionally grant public access to their lands for outdoor recreation—from hiking to hunting—and their road networks provide access to favorite destinations. The Northern Forest Center recognizes that this traditional access is a privilege and not a right, and works to build good relationships with landowners to ensure ongoing public access to the forest. Learn more about this work at Maine Woods Consortium and Keeping Maine’s Forest.