Trails bond is an investment in Maine’s outdoor brand

By Jenny Kordick and Kay Henry

Maine trails are priceless, yet we take them for granted.

They connect us with each other and the natural world. They provide us with memories, moments of awe and inspiration, and opportunities for recreation and reflection.

Maine trails enhance our towns, increase property values, improve our health and quality of life, and they’re great for business. Trails help fuel Maine’s $3 billion outdoor recreation economy

Maine has thousands of miles of trails for hiking, running, snowmobiling, skiing, camping, paddling, hunting, biking and more. Maine businesses locate near trails, provide guided adventures on trails and create and sell gear to help us access and enjoy our trails. 

Maine Outdoor Brands is comprised of more than 180 businesses and organizations, nearly all of which are connected in some way to Maine’s trails. 

For example, the visitors of Red River Camps can explore miles of trails in Deboullie Public Lands. L.L. Bean’s equipment and apparel can be spotted on trails in every corner of Maine, and around the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear in Biddeford produces some of the lightest backpacking gear on the planet. Organizations like Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation, Maine Professional Guides Association, Teens to Trails and Bicycle Coalition of Maine connect people with trails daily. These are just a few of the members of Maine Outdoor Brands. 

Since the pandemic, trail use in Maine and across the nation has exploded. This is a good thing, but increased trail use means increased wear and tear. It also means that the people who use and watch over our trails are generating exciting new ideas for expanding and enhancing Maine’s trails, even as the funding to do so is scarce.  

That’s why Maine Outdoor Brands strongly supports passage of the Maine trails bond (LD 1156) currently before the Maine Legislature. This $30 million bond would be Maine’s first-ever significant investment in the design, development and maintenance of non-motorized, motorized and diverse use trails statewide.  

Although trails are part of Maine’s infrastructure, we don’t think of trails that way. Most trails in Maine were inherited by state or local agencies from previous landowners or have been developed by land trusts or other nonprofit organizations. Despite the significant economic benefit that trails provide the state, we rely mostly on volunteers and private donors to build and steward these resources.  

Snowmobile and ATV clubs play heroic roles in maintaining trails that contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually to our economy, especially across rural Maine. Land trusts scramble to raise funds to build and repair trail bridges, reroute and create new trails, including accessible trails that can be used by people of all ages and abilities. 

New trails don’t just happen, and they don’t magically maintain themselves.   

Since 2007, Maine voters have approved more than $1 billion in highway bonds, but they have never been given a chance to invest in Maine’s off-road infrastructure — our trails. The time has come to do so.  

Maine Outdoor Brands has joined with more than 300 organizations, businesses and towns across Maine who are urging the Legislature to send the Maine trails bond to the November ballot.   

If approved by the voters, this investment would yield dividends for generations to come. Because the funding could be used toward the match requirement for federal grants, Maine could greatly increase the return on this investment. Some federal programs provide 80 percent federal funding for 20 percent local match, leveraging significant funds that otherwise likely would not come to Maine.  

Through our roles in Maine Outdoor Brands, we think a lot about the brand power of products and services connected with Maine’s outdoors. We also think about Maine’s brand power. Maine’s trails are part of Maine’s brand, and just like any business, Maine should think about the type of investments that can build that brand to help differentiate the state from the rest of the market, securing stronger loyalty and satisfaction from its customers — Mainers and visitors from afar. 

The Maine trails bond provides an opportunity to do just that.

Kordick is the executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands. Henry is the president of the board of directors of Maine Outdoor Brands and the founder of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and Mad River Canoe Co.

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