Carolann and Mike at ME ConferenceMike Wilson, the Northern Forest Center’s senior program director, joined Maine’s Destination Development Specialist and the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation during the Maine Governor’s Conference on Tourism, April 9, to highlight opportunities for recreation-based rural destination development to build economic and community vitality in the Maine Woods. More than 300 people turned out for the annual conference in Augusta — where Wilson presented two workshops — to learn about future trends and opportunities for local businesses, organizations, and rural communities.

During the most heavily attended conference session, Wilson teamed up with Carolann Ouellette, director of Maine’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, and David Beurle, founder and CEO of the research and planning firm FutureiQ, to build the case for intentionally integrating Maine’s outdoor recreation economy with rural broader rural destination development work. The presentation was grounded by two recent reports by Future iQ examining projected travel and outdoor recreation trends and related development scenarios for the Maine Woods region. The reports were contracted by the Maine Woods Consortium – a network of non-profit, business, and state agencies coordinated by the Center.

The Future iQ reports point to Rural Destination Development as a $5.6 billion opportunity for the Maine Woods region.  As part of his presentation, Wilson discussed the partnership between the Center, the Maine Office of Tourism, and Maine Woods Consortium to help communities capitalize on this opportunity through a new Community Destination Academy.  

“Outdoor recreation is a vital driver of destination development opportunities in the Maine Woods,” said Wilson. “Building recreational infrastructure and associated downtown, lodging and dining amenities will help rural communities become destinations not only for visitors, but also for new residents and businesses."

During the session, Ouellette highlighted the fact that outdoor recreation currently generates $8.2 billion in annual consumer spending in Maine while also helping to address critical rural health and wellness issues. She also pointed to the Center’s role in convening the Northern Forest Symposium during late 2018 as helping to refine the Maine caucus’ priorities to organize a coalition, advocate for a permanent Office of Outdoor Recreation, and establish a destination development as a key strategic pillar moving forward.

During a second Conference workshop, Wilson joined Donna Moreland, Maine’s Rural Destination Development Specialist and a panel of community leaders from the Moosehead Lake area to present that region as a pilot area for other community initiatives. The session highlighted investments in a new wayfinding system, creation of a new Artisan Village, and downtown beautification efforts.  In addition to the Community Destination Academy that was piloted in the Moosehead region in 2018, Wilson also discussed the Center’s Moosehead Façade Improvement program – part of a larger Tourism Innovation Program that is providing grants support business improvement and innovation in the area.

To learn more about the Maine Governor’s Conference and access the presentations referenced in this update please click here for Wilson’s first presentation and here for the Moosehead Lake case study. The following link will bring you to Ouellette’s presentation, and Beurle’s futureIQ slides can be found here.