By Kaitlyn Bernard and Carolyn Brodsky, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Beautiful fall days are just one reason we are lucky to live in the great state of Maine. From the Cutler coast to the Mahoosucs and from Aroostook State Park to Mount Agamenticus, every corner of Maine seems postcard worthy in the fall.
Fall in Maine is full of outdoor events celebrating our natural treasures and traditions. In the last weekend of September alone, you could have celebrated the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend at one of 120 events across the state, participated in National Public Lands Day, enjoyed free entry to Acadia National Park, visited the Common Ground Country Fair, gone apple picking at a local orchard or explored trails and parks close to home. And that’s just one weekend’s worth of events — think of the year-round opportunities we have here to enjoy!
September 2015 marked the eighth Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, with more than 10,000 Mainers participating in one or more of these events. Participants celebrated grand openings of new trails and explored Maine state parks, historic sites and public lands. They hiked, biked, paddled, hunted for mushrooms, built fairy houses and gazed at the blood moon from canoes and mountaintops. These events united Mainers with a chance to spend time with friends and family, get some exercise and enjoy the fall and outdoors in Maine. This connection to the outdoors creates the fabric of our communities and enhances our economy as well as our quality of life.
What many of our outdoor enthusiasts may not realize, however, is that the special places they cherish were likely made possible by important conservation programs that are caught in political budget tangles. Maine has long benefited from broadly supported state and federal programs that provide funding opportunities for conservation, recreation and preserving Maine’s outdoor traditions and heritage. Two such programs are the Land for Maine’s Future and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. These two tools are often used together in Maine to provide critical financial support for conservation, access and park maintenance projects.
The Land for Maine’s Future program’s successes range from securing public access for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation; protecting working farms; conserving more than 1,200 miles of shoreline; and establishing hundreds of miles of trails, motorized and nonmotorized. These projects are a good deal for the state of Maine. A recent report by the Trust for Public Land found that lands conserved by Land for Maine’s Future return $11 for every $1 invested by providing tangible natural goods and services and supporting Maine’s outdoor and natural resource economies.
Despite a history of success and support, Gov. Paul LePage has surprised many by using the bond approval process as a political bargaining chip. Without his signature, the bonds that were approved by Mainers at the ballot box have not been released, stalling 30 pending projects and potentially discouraging future project applications.
At the federal level, the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be celebrating its 50th year of successfully supporting conservation and recreation opportunities across the country, but Congress failed to reauthorize the program before it expired Sept. 30. This program is supported by Maine’s full federal delegation, and it has provided funding for small-scale community recreation infrastructure, such as tennis courts, baseball fields and boat launches, and landscape-scale conservation efforts that include such regional treasures as Grafton Notch, Orbeton Stream in the High Peaks region and Appalachian Mountain Club’s own Katahdin Iron Works project in the Moosehead Lake region.
We have a lot to celebrate here in Maine, but the tools to protect and maintain our favorite outdoor places and experiences are in jeopardy and need our help. Future trails, boat launches, parks and community projects are at risk if funding gets wrapped up in politics and we don’t fight for these positive opportunities. We should let our state and federal representatives know these programs are important to us and to Maine. Keep these programs running so we can continue to celebrate new trails and conservation projects in the best way we know how: getting out and exploring!
Kaitlyn Bernard is the Maine Program Associate for the Appalachian Mountain Club. She serves as the coordinator for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend twice a year in September and February. Carolyn Brodsky is the president and founder of Sterling Rope in Biddeford, the leading manufacturer of life safety rope, cord and hardware.