by: Jessica O'Hare
The Maine Woods Tourism Training Initiative is a project of the Northern Forest Center and the Maine Woods Consortium, in partnership with seven economic development organizations. Its focus is strengthening tourism businesses across 12 million acres of forestland and forest communities in seven counties of the Maine Woods.
The recent conclusion of a USDA Rural Development grant that supported the project prompted us to reflect on the Initiative’s impact and what we’ve learned over the past three years:
- 49 trainings
- 717 Employees Trained
- 295 Tourism Businesses
- 454 Total Businesses
The project took it one step further than training alone. To help businesses act on the ideas the trainings offered, we provided small grants to help them take on strategic projects with the help of an outside consultant. See a map of all grantees. Together, we delivered:
- 38 small grants to businesses, totaling $44,280
- $66,480 in private investment leveraged
- Assistance to 51 business owners
- Strengthening jobs for 113 full time employees and 133 part-time or seasonal employees
Tourism businesses often chose to spruce up their internet presence. Black Mountain Ski Area of Maine in Rumford found great value in updating their website and training on social media marketing.
Other attractions, like McLaughlin Gardens and Homestead in South Paris wanted to make it easier to reserve their barn for weddings and events. Mt. Chase Lodge in the Katahdin Region hired a photographer to properly capture their accommodations, farm to table dining experience, and creative events.
We are taking stock of the project impact over seven counties in Maine. Here are a few of those lessons we took away from the project:
I wanted to share a great chain reaction that I’ve witnessed now popping up in three different locations across the Northern Forest. We think it was inspired by the Northern Forest Regional Symposium, hosted by The Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and the Northern Forest Center a year ago.
The Symposium put special emphasis on showcasing initiatives and ideas that had traction. So, Clyde Rabideau, mayor of Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks showcased a hiking challenge to bag all 6 peaks in the area, the Saranac 6ers. Finishers get the satisfaction of ringing the bell in town and getting a badge. Saranac Lake can use the initiative as a tool to promote and market the area.
Can bike tourism help reinvigorate Adirondack communities? That is the question I asked myself as I represented the Center at a top-notch cycling tour through the Adirondacks sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The ride represented so much of what we care about. It showcased community spirit, the outstanding landscape, and conservation science, all while exposing cyclists from across the country to a resilient, beautiful part of the Northern Forest.
It’s a fair question to ask: Why would a group of relative strangers set off on a 250-mile, 16-day canoe trip through the heart of the Maine Woods eight days after “ice out” and right at the start of the infamous black fly season?