2018 Northern Forest Symposium

Trends and Opportunities for the Region’s People, Communities and Landscape

More than 170 people participated in the 2018 Northern Forest Regional Symposium to explore the evolving trends in outdoor recreation and its role as a critical economic driver in the Northern Forest region.

Regional leaders in outdoor recreation — business owners, civic leaders, private landowners and public officials from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York — shared their experiences and expertise to launch engaging discussions about the real challenges and potential benefits that come with the growing recreation sector, including workforce issues, natural resource and visitor use management, market development, funding for trail and amenity maintenance, technology, collaboration and recreational use of private lands.

Bridget Freudenberger testimonial

"By far, this is the most valuable event I've attended, and I'm grateful for the information shared and the connections I made."

—Bridget Freudenberger, Coos Outdoor Recreation Events, LLC

The Symposium provided highly interactive discussions to help participants spot new approaches, synthesize lessons and identify promising solutions to common challenges with the goal of generating practical ideas about how outdoor recreation development can strengthen the region’s economy, boost local livelihoods and attract new visitors and residents to our region. Symposium Agenda.

Three organizations convened the Symposium—the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the Northern Border Regional Commission and the Northern Forest Center—with additional financial support from the Betterment Fund. A 14-member steering committee designed the Symposium with consultation from the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group.

Jessie Perkins testimonial

"Sure signs of a successful conference are a strong enough program to attract real players, a location beautiful enough to feel like a real retreat, top-notch facilitation, and a lasting afterglow that causes attendees to go back and right away take some actions in their own lives/work. The Northern Forest Symposium offered all this and more. Thanks to the Tillotson Fund, the Border Commission, and the Center for pulling it all together and making it relatively affordable for all."

—Jessie Perkins, Bethel (ME) Area Chamber of Commerce

Outcomes: Big Ideas & Questions

Throughout the Symposium, participants noted “big idea” takeaways and key questions generated by the presentations and discussions. Download Big Ideas and Questions summary.

State Caucus Priorities

At the end of the Symposium, participants met with others from their state to identify top outdoor recreation priorities to work on within their state, priorities to work on regionally, and to identify a key challenge or goal for the region. Download the State Caucus Summary.

Report on Trends & Opportunities of the Northern Forest Recreation Economy

The Center will be compiling a report for the Northern Border Regional Commission to synthesize key needs and opportunities to build the region’s outdoor recreation-related economy, and will post it when complete. The report will help guide the Commission’s grant making.


The Symposium addressed the topics below. Many of the presentations are available and linked for downloading.

Some presentations include a video component. If video is included, the PDF will prompt you to find the video via a web address or to click on the accompanying video file.

Opening Plenary Session

Ground Truth and Trends: In Our Region: What Do We Know about Outdoor Recreation in the Northern Forest?

What do we know about trends in the development and impact of the Outdoor Recreation economy in our own region? Joe will provide data and insights culled from leaders in each of our four states – to lay a solid base that can undergird our thinking and doing throughout the Symposium.

It’s Working Here and Now: Outdoor Recreation Success Stories from Our States!

Now, to start us off with ideas and enterprises already working in our region, we’ll hear an inspirational–and instructive–story of an outdoor recreation economy success from each of our four states. As you listen to and question the storytellers, start recording takeaways for your own work – and try to spot Big Ideas that might help us all.

Building Quality into the Outdoor Recreation Experience: Trends & Innovations

On the Path to Quality: Establishing, Maintaining & Adapting Our Backcountry Trails

More and more recreation in the Northern Forest region is trail‐based. New trails are now typically “purpose built” for a specific use – and they are expensive to both build and maintain. Of course, to strengthen our recreation economy, our tens of thousands of miles of existing trail must be maintained as well. Here we’ll highlight “trail trends,” along with innovations in how trails are being built, maintained, and used around our region.

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Making the Experience Better Together: Collaborating to Develop a Dynamic Destination

“Placemaking” and “Destination Development” are increasingly important trends for attracting both visitors and new residents. Outdoor recreation is a highly desirable component of a “destination” – as is a robust package of high quality food, lodging, activity and “green” amenities that keep people busy, satisfied and happy. Northern Forest communities are now working on their own – and together across geographies and sectors – to package the makings of a “destination.” Come hear about one place that is blending outdoor recreation with other amenities to “dynamize” place – and maximize the chances of success.

Download the spotlight story. Panelists included:

  • Donna Moreland, Destination Development Specialist, Office of Tourism—Maine
  • Dan Rinard, Maine Operations Director, Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Mike Wilson, Senior Program Director, Northern Forest Center

Consistency Rules! High Quality in Visitors' Outdoor Recreation Experiences

One great strength of the Northern Forest? The myriad of outdoor recreation options we offer. The flip side? Recreationists have a grand time in one place and suffer a radically different experience a few towns over. Unmet expectations about quality hurt us all. Ensuring more consistent quality standards across our region’s landscape is on the agenda for many. Compare ideas about how aligning our quality with consumer expectations can bring riders, hikers, sliders, paddlers, hunters and more to admire our region not just for a one‐off recreation experience, but for a series of linked high‐quality recreation activities and amenities well worth a return trip.

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Maura Adams, Program Director, Northern Forest Center
  • Steve Cook, Deputy Commissioner, VT Dept. of Tourism & Marketing
  • Wayne Saunders, Coos County OHRV Coordinator, Coos County Sheriff's Office, NH

The Beauty of Bits and Bots: Getting Technology into Our Outdoor Recreation Act

Been anywhere new lately without using GPS? Ever check an app to find the closest good cup of brew after a long hike? Cell phones and social media have changed how people find and navigate their recreation options and learn about their surroundings – plus how they stay safe in the woods and on the water. While technology can enhance recreation experiences, it can also contribute to overcrowding and poor safety decisions. But it’s here to stay and we need not just to board the tech train, but to lead the way. Hear great examples of places that have used technology for the good – enhancing excellent, safe recreation and driving business to local communities – while avoiding tech trauma.

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What a Difference a “Day” Makes: Outdoor Recreation Events that Build Business – and Community

Devising a special recreation event – a race, achievements that merit recognition, a festival – can get the ball rolling to bring people in for the first time and keep them coming back. What makes for an innovative and compelling event in the outdoor recreation space? Hear from places around the region that have done it, in ways that drive new dollars to local business and build community during and after the event.

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Evolving Traditions: Promising Trends in Wildlife‐Based Recreation

Even as our region’s hunting and fishing mainstays make room for other recreation options, they are experiencing change themselves. Hunting camps increasingly cater to a growing cadre of birding enthusiasts, while Cooperative Extension offices are bringing new generations out to enjoy traditional hunting and fishing. Join guides and leaders in the know to compare how these traditional recreation stalwarts are evolving – and producing new opportunities.

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Joan Collins. President, Adirondack Avian Expeditions & Workshops NY
  • Bonnie Holding. Director of Information and Education, ME Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
  • Don Kleiner. Executive Director, ME Professional Guides Association

New Work on Persistent Issues

Tension Everyone? Managing Conflicts Between User Groups

It’s unavoidable: One person’s awesome recreation activity can generate another’s vexing annoyance. Horse poop on a hiking trail, skiers on snowmobile trails, mountain bikers in the woods during hunting season …we all know situations where recreational user groups come into conflict. Reconciling these conflicts productively is essential, both for quality recreation and for the well‐being of the host communities and landowners. In this session, we’ll name the real tensions that can exist, but focus on how people have found their way through them to outcomes that approach the elusive “win‐win.”

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Steve Agius. Wildlife Refuge Manager, Conte National Wildlife Refuge VT
  • Claire Polfus. Maine Program Manager, Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • Louis Porter. Commissioner, Vermont Fish & Wildlife

Value that Lasts: Managing Visitors for Safety, Satisfaction and Enduring Use

As more and more people discover the treasure trove of recreation opportunities our region offers, implementing the science (and art) of “visitor use management” becomes more critical. Without managing visitor use prudently, we cannot protect the landscape, mitigate concentrated impacts on infrastructure (whether trails or parking lots!), or keep people safe while having the experience they came for. Hear and share here how some farsighted communities and landowners in the region are tackling this challenge.

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Julia Goren. (former) Education Director, Adirondack Vision Project NY
  • Clare Mendelsohn. Forest Supervisor, White Mountain National Forest NH
  • Evan Sypitkowski. Director, Baxter State Park ME

Reality Check: Making a Living in the Outdoor Recreation Economy

Tourism and hospitality jobs can get a bad rap – because they typically offer low pay, low or no benefits, irregular hours and are seasonal. At the same time, some locals like a variety of small seasonal jobs or very busy one-season jobs to allow their chosen lifestyle. In this session, people whose livelihoods depend on our outdoor recreation economy will share their stories. We’ll learn how they manage to support their households, what they like best and least about their employment situations, and what has led to their current choices – all as a prelude to this conversation: What do we really need in the region to ensure that the sector can provide meaningful, quality jobs for the very people who make it work?

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Cassie Bernyk. Outdoor Educator, Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Kara Hunter. Owner, Hub North NH
  • Jason Smith. Owner, Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters NY

Our Mutual Interest: Private Land Use for Outdoor Recreation

Much of the Northern Forest region’s recreation infrastructure is based on private land. That presents significant challenges: For many landowners, recreation is not a priority land management objective – and land ownership is constantly in flux. These realities can lead to conflict, and also threaten the long‐term sustainability of any recreation option that relies on public access to private land. In this session, we’ll feature perspectives from several landowners/landowner groups and a conversation about what has worked to balance their responsibilities with their interest in recreation development.

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 Who Can Play? Ensuring Recreation Access for All

“Are we building trails for local people or for outsiders with $5000 bikes?” – that’s how one local leader in the region put it. Indeed, developing recreation options can spark difficult conversations and dynamics around exactly who gets to use them. As outdoor recreation expands in the region, how can the industry ensure that recreation opportunities are equally accessible to people – from both inside and outside the region – who typically don’t or can’t engage because of cost, age, ability, fear of the unfamiliar, or other social barriers? This session will feature examples of how local businesses and governments are creating ways to bring more “left out” and underserved people into recreation participation.

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Who Decides? Community Engagement and Power in Recreation Planning

Local perception about outdoor recreation development can be negative – especially when residents feel their perspective and ideas are left out of planning and decision making. How can residents be consistently and deeply engaged in making decisions about recreation development – so that the development is “happening with us” not “happening to us”? Come hear a story about how community voice has been intentionally solicited and included in recreation direction and decision making – and the benefits that flow from doing it!

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Partnerships for Prosperity

Striking the Right (A)Chord: Harmonizing Sources, Uses and Benefits for Recreation Funding

Traditional means of funding outdoor recreation development are well known. But what are some new ideas and opportunities? Where are unlikely partnerships, innovative funding structures, and new types of investors coming together to draw new resources to the table? After hearing a few quick creative funding vignettes, participants will have the opportunity to pose a funding conundrum, and we’ll consider how public and philanthropic sources, private investment and newer trends like user fees, permit fees and product partnerships might help.

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Ben Doyle. Associate Director, USDA Rural Development VT
  • Chris Ericson. Owner, Big Slide Brewery NY
  • Gabe Perkins. Executive Director, Mahoosuc Pathways

Stating the Obvious: The Rewards of Regional Collaboration

We may have only one Northern Forest Region – but we have four states and many places. Though there are efficiencies and rewards for working across place, it takes work. Can we identify inconsistencies across town, county and state borders that frustrate recreation users? Can we manage not to compete and thus make it better for all parties? Can we identify issues that might better be resolved – or resolved better – if we were working together on them? In this session, we’ll address these questions and more, and see if we can come up with some answers and direction.

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Kristin Keeney. New England Coordinator, East Coast Greenway
  • Chris Thayer. Director of Programs and Outreach, Appalachian Mountain Club
  • Karrie Thomas. Executive Director, Northern Forest Canoe Trail

Partnering for Promotion: Building Our Recreation Market Together

In today’s information‐laden world, it’s increasingly hard for any one recreation attraction to break through the noise. There’s shared economic benefit in joint marketing and building our product and service connections to attract visitors, encourage them to stay longer, and help users get more recreation value on every visit. What marketing collaborations and tactics are leading the way – and what’s likely ahead on the marketing trail that might maximize mutual benefits?

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Owning UP! Building Local Ownership and Vitality in the Recreation Economy

To maximize the economic benefits of outdoor recreation for our region, we need local people, places and firms to “own” as much of the action as possible. Ownership can mean strengthening local firms so that they can provide the goods and amenities that recreationists want. Or it can mean starting new firms to fill gaps in the service mix. It can also mean engaging local volunteers as part of the business model or as Ambassadors – promoting local recreation inside and outside the region. Hear here some good examples of how increasing local ownership and participation has multiplied positive local results.

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The Talent Map: Growing and Recruiting Our Recreation Industry Workforce

Our region needs more workers and wants more residents. Already, local recreation‐sector businesses are having difficulty hiring employees with the skills firms need. And many of our rural communities are angling to get new families to move to the region. How can we use recreation as an attractor for new residents? What role do part‐year and immigrant workers play? And how can our local education infrastructure – especially higher education institutions that offer recreation‐related curriculum – become a partner in both graduating people with credentials and keeping them in the region?

(There was no formal presentation for this discussion.) Panelists:

  • Chris Diego. Managing Director, Mountain View Grand Resort
  • Sean Doll. Associate Professor, Northern Vermont University
  • Vincent Spiotti. Adjunct Faculty, White Mountains Community College

Steering Committee

  • Jean Clarke, Tillotson Program Associate, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation
  • Julie Renaud Evans, Director of Forestry, Northern Forest Center
  • Christine Frost, Federal Program Director, Northern Border Regional Commission
  • Pam Laflamme, Community Development Director, City of Berlin  Cindy Locke, Executive Director, Vermont Association of Snow Travelers
  • Mike Lynch, Communications Director, Northern Forest Canoe Trail 
  • Carolann Ouellette, Executive Director, Maine Huts & Trails
  • Jessie Perkins, Executive Director, Bethel Chamber of Commerce
  • Corrine Rober, Business Owner, Bear Rock Adventures 
  • Jessica Savage, Recreation Program Manager, Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation 
  • Kirsten Scobie, Director, Tillotson Funds, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation 
  • Joe Short, Vice President, Northern Forest Center
  • Tim Tierney, Project Director, Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development 
  • Josh Wilson, Executive Director, Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA) 
  • Tracy Zschau, Northeast Kingdom Director, Vermont Land Trust 


Use this link to read about the 2015 Northern Forest Symposium.