Storm-damaged Maine trails could benefit from bond that would provide $30M

By Julie Harris, Bangor Daily News Staff

A $30 million bond request meant to bolster existing and develop new trails could be used to repair damage that multiple storms inflicted on the state’s trail system, according to a Maine Trails Coalition spokesperson on March 14.

LD 1156 An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Promote the Design, Development and Maintenance of Trails for Outdoor Recreation and Active Transportation was sent last March to the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, which decided in July to carry it into this legislative session.

The bond is part of an effort to take a statewide approach to designing, developing and maintaining trails that draw people into Maine’s more than $3 billion recreation economy. One goal is to build trails that stand up to the effects of climate change, such as frequent flooding.

“We need a more dedicated stream of funding and we need to have more climate resilience,” said Silvia Cassano of the Maine Trails Coalition. “Mainers recognize that trails are part of our economy and our way of life.”

The $30 million would be distributed over four years to clubs and organizations that develop and maintain trails, but the need for it is even more urgent since the severe rain and wind storms that washed out, eroded and otherwise damaged thousands of miles of trails around the state over the last few months, Cassano said Thursday.

The coalition released the results of its survey on storm damage to snowmobile, ATV, hiking, and other trails around the state on March 13

The appropriations committee could consider the bond request as soon as next week, she said. If approved, the bond issue would go before voters in November. The Bureau of Parks and Lands would administer the funds.

The coalition is joining the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry; the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation and the Bureau of Tourism, which both are part of the Department of Community and Economic Development; and other state and private groups to coordinate finding funding and approaching trail development and maintenance in a more sustainable way, Cassano said.

There are other one-time funding sources to help clubs and organizations repair storm-damaged trails. One of those is the $3.5 million Community Recreation Assistance Recovery Program, funded with American Rescue Plan Act money through state grants.

Grants of up to $200,000 will be awarded. For details on how to apply before the April 25 deadline, contact the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation.

Maine is behind neighboring Vermont and New Hampshire in taking a more organized approach to developing, maintaining and marketing trail systems, Cassano said.

“We promote them but don’t invest in them like other states do,” she said.

That may change with the Maine Outdoor Recreation Economy Roadmap, a joint project by Maine Outdoor Brands, the University of Maine and the state’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, that is meant to define and promote this sector of the economy.

It’s not just about defining the outdoor recreation economy but also unlocking its full potential, said Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation, in a press release about the initiative last month. 

“Through a baseline analysis, strategic identification of growth drivers and expanding partnerships, we’re laying the foundation for a thriving future,” she said.

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