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Take Aways from the 2023 Maine Outdoor Economy Summit

MOES LogoLessons and Experiences at MOES 2023!

Some of the Portland Paddle team attended the second annual Maine Outdoor Economy Summit this past week where we got to participate in a number of interesting talks on the future of outdoor recreation in Maine. MOES is a forum for anyone who engages with outdoor recreation in Maine, including educators, businesses, guides, policy makers, conservation organizations, and more. The forum is hosted by the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation and the Maine Outdoor Brands industry association. In addition to the presentations, there were also a number of social events and a vendor marketplace. We were thrilled to join other outfitters and innovative small businesses from across Maine at the vendor marketplace showing off all the wonderful creativity and outdoor experiences Maine has to offer!

One of our favorite talks was to hear from keynote speaker, Maine Guide, cultural preservationist, and traditional basket maker Jennifer Neptune of the Penobscot Nation on the place-based cultural learning trips herself and other Penobscot guides have been leading over the past ten years as part of the Penobscot Nation’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Office, in conjunction with Mahoosuc Guide Service. Through these trips Jennifer and her colleagues have taught participants about traditional Penobscot culture, including food, songs, stories, and birchbark and sweetgrass building practices. The trips are an inspiring blend of eco-tourism and cultural education, and support the Penobscot Nation’s own cultural preservation and youth education programs. Through her talk, Jennifer interwove beautiful photography, Maine and Penobscot Nation history, a Penobscot traveling story of Gluskap hunting moose, and the benefits and challenges associated with running these trips, to create an enthralling and educational experience for attendees. To say we enjoyed ourselves is an under statement!

Outdoor Recreation Fun Facts!

  • Did you know that Outdoor Recreation is almost 4% of Maine’s Economy?
  • That makes it one of the highest percentages of any industry in Maine!
  • Maine has the 6th highest percentage of any state in the country!
  • Nationally Outdoor Recreations has 1.1 trillion dollars of economic output, 2.2% of the Gross Domestic Product.
  • That’s more than oil, gas, and mining combined!
  • Nationally Outdoor Recreation contributed to five million jobs, 3.2% of total national employment.

The Conference continues…

Later in the conference we were excited to hear from economic development experts from Rumford, Skowhegan, and Millinocket, about the work they’ve been doing to revitalize their towns, and integrate paddling and trail infrastructure into their communities. With focuses on walkable and bikeable downtowns, housing development, community services, and flagship outdoor recreation destinations with something to offer for everyone, these cities are all poised to become the next hubs of outdoor recreation and livable communities in Maine. Community programs featured included Skowhegan Outdoors, the Katahdin Gear Library, and a number of fun festivals and special events hosted throughout the year. Recreation destinations included both completed and in development projects, including the Katahdin Area Trails, Black Mountain of Maine, Rumford Community Forest, and Skowhegan River Park.  All the panelists skillfully blended technical details such as budgets and permitting processes, with stories of community engagement, soliciting feedback, and thoughtful planning, to create sample blueprints attendees could use to guide endeavors in their own communities. Two recurring adages from all the speakers on the panel were “make your space a nice place to live and it will also be a nice place to visit” and “development is all about community and connections”, advice we couldn’t agree with more from our experiences promoting paddling in southern Maine. We’re inspired to see what is next for these communities, and look forward to a bright future of outdoor recreation and economic development working in tandem across the great state of Maine! And of course, we can’t wait to surf the wave at Skowhegan’s new river park next fall!

Fun Facts on Conservation in Maine:

  • Approximately 6% of Maine’s land is conserved by the state
  • An additional 12% is conserved by Maine’s many Land Trusts
  • Maine is home to one national park, one national monument, several national wildlife refuges, national forest lands, the Appalachian Trail, and a number of wild and scenic rivers!
  • Baxter State Park, home to Maine’s highest peak Katahdin, is managed under a unique land management charter not found anywhere else in the country or in Maine’s other state parks.
  • Much of the Maine North Woods is managed under a private-public partnership for a mix of timber harvest, conservation, and outdoor recreation under the umbrella of the non-profit North Maine Woods Inc.
  • Access to many of Maine’s coastal islands is ensured by the trail blazing work of the Maine Island Trail Association, which created one of the first coastal water trails in the country, and operates under a pioneering ‘management without ownership’ model different from many other conservation organizations.

Wrapping Up…

Over all, we were fortunate to attend more inspiring and informative talks than we could hope to summarize here! Speakers included Kelly Davis, research director of the Outdoor Industry Association (and an absolute riot!), members of the Rural Aspirations Project and East Grand School Outdoor Education Program, Hallie Herz and Eva Fury of the Kindling Collective, sustainability experts from NEMO Equipment and other manufacturers, and DEIA experts from Maine Association for New Americans, Confluence Collective, and more! We are incredibly grateful to the hard work all of these speakers do every day for the environment, diversity, outdoor recreation, and the state of Maine as a whole, and we appreciate the time they took to pass on their knowledge at this year’s conference.

Finally, we wrapped up our conference attendance with the Discovery Marketplace, where we were thrilled to see some of Maine’s most innovative makers, outfitters, and conservation organizations, including our friends at Ottera Designs, The Maine Island Trail Association, Grain Surfboards, Equinox Climbing Guides, Rugged Seas, The Outdoor Equity Fund, Maine the Way Magazine, and more!

All in all we enjoyed our time at MOES immensely. We can’t wait to attend again next year, and can’t wait to see how outdoor recreation continues to thrive and grow in Maine!