Eco - Tourism can boost local economy
Plans are underway to transform acreage at the former Loring Air Force Base to a wildlife refuge. While this hardly seems as though it can make a big difference to the economy of the County, think again.
Eco - Tourism is one of the hottest growing income areas for attracting visitors to natural sites. It is, generally, low impact on the site and often provides the tourist with a reasonable cost for a vacation that allows for plenty of quiet space and enjoyment of the outdoors.
With the idea of having the refuge operational (with visitor center and at least three employees) in 1996, there are ways to build strength in this new recreational destination. It's time to pull together educational resources that make sense.
Aroostook County Tourism is working at helping build awareness in the many notable spots in the County that could be enjoyed by visitors by first putting on local educational programs. They will be doing just that this winter...aiming at promoting interest with in-County residents so that they might find opportunity to share in the entrepreneurial focus and perhaps to just learn more themselves.
The extension of the Appalachian Trail through central Aroostook in the next few years will bring additional eco-tourism. And what of those who have already hiked the trail - won't they want to 'catch up' on the final leg into Canada?
Local businesses that offer outdoor gear and equipment can become informed about where the most interesting County spots are. They can develop connections and partnerships with other businesses, all with the idea of extending the stay as well as the pleasure for visitors.
And, while on their way up through the County to the new refuge, tourists are likely to take side tours, make local shopping stops and find other avenues for quiet recreation in between. Aroostook State Park is the perfect spot for a day-hiker to visit. Pleasant and easy walking trails wind their way to both north and south peaks; in the winter, the hikers may return with their cross-country skis and stay over at local motels and hotels.
Yes, the refuge will help point the way to developing other seasonal focus for the County. It won't just be snowmobiling - there will be other reasons, and good ones, to visit during the other three seasons.
Let's get Maine Audubon to lead tours from southern Maine to the refuge. What about enticing bicycling clubs from throughout New England to enjoy the back roads and pause at the many scenic areas. We could also set up our own eco-tourism events, put together a Wildlife Refuge events weekend, promote joint ventures such as farm tours along with the wildlife, and grow our assets to tie into the opening of the new center.
It's time for a new way of thinking, about turning outdoor space into an economic advantage. And, if we get involved in the plan, it will be better - nothing will happen behind our backs. Service clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and business organizations can be part of the new project too, donating volunteer time to get the center up and running, and making it a great place for residents to visit as well.
Take ownership of the future, and take advantage of a unique opportunity.