Why is resort a dirty word for Maine?

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As a child, I traveled through Greenville every summer, marveling at the huge resort hotels and the bustling main street. Today, those hotels are gone and so are many of the area’s people and tourists – including visiting anglers.

There are a lot of reasons for that, from our failure to invest in the Moosehead Lake fishery to our obstinate opposition to development. Somehow “resort” has become a bad thing for Maine. Maybe we just need to rename it. How about calling it a “place of prosperity?”

Plum Creek has done us a favor in presenting a significant concept plan for conservation and development in the Moosehead region. In fact, this is exactly what the Land Use Regulation Commission asked large landowners to do – give us a vision for their entire property, rather than submit plans piecemeal over many years.

Along with a conservation easement on most of their property, Plum Creek proposes to sell lake and back lots and rezone two areas for potential resorts. The resorts are drawing a lot of interest, and seem to be a good idea.

It has been my privilege to be a part of the GrowSmart Maine campaign to implement the recommendations of the Brookings Institution, which brilliantly described Maine’s

“quality of place” as not just the great outdoors, but also the downtowns and village centers. They are so right! It is this quality of place that is at the center of the debate about Plum Creek’s proposal.

As a traveling sportsman, I know that Maine is ineffective in competing for the big money that is spent on hunting and fishing in this country. For example, we don’t have the fishery – especially the big fish – or enough of the fine lodges and amenities that attract traveling anglers these days. And we fail miserably at marketing what we do have.

My wife and I, for example, thanks to the generosity of the manager of Rainbow River Lodge in Alaska, enjoyed a spectacular fishing adventure two years ago, staying in a luxurious cabin, flying out to new fishing destinations every day, and returning at night to gourmet dinners. Anglers pay more than $7,000 for six days of fishing there. Nothing in Maine compares.

But I can honestly say we’ve got rivers that are just as spectacular as any of those I have fished in Alaska, Montana, Quebec or Labrador. We just don’t have the high-end lodges (resorts) and the big fish.

The people at Plum Creek are good people. In Montana, I have personally seen their commitment to restoration of the endangered Bull Trout and protection of the state’s most famous rivers. I was delighted two weeks ago when the company signed an innovative cooperative deer management agreement with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The negative attacks – including television ads – that have been launched against Plum Creek have disappointed me. Can LURC put these aside and focus on the facts of the company’s Moosehead concept plan? I have to hope so.

Commissioner Steve Wight, who owns an inn and ski touring center in the Bethel area, has been a respected leader of the tourism industry and the environmental community for many years. He certainly knows the value of development and investment in infrastructure for an area that depends on tourism

In fact, the business community of Bethel is currently working on an exciting initiative with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to improve and market the fishery in the exceptional section of the Androscoggin River that flows from the New Hampshire border to Bethel. These folks get it – and they are to be commended for working cooperatively to expand their tourism and outdoor economy. Bethel is one of Maine’s finest destination resorts.

Without question, the Moosehead region is not as prosperous, lacking much of the infrastructure that is available in the Bethel area, which makes LURC’s Plum Creek decision all the more important.

LURC is supposed to balance conservation with development. There is risk in whatever decision they make. And there is no absolutely right decision. But for the people of the Moosehead region – as well as for all of us – we pray that LURC makes a good decision. Recognizing that resorts are not all bad would be a good place to start.

George Smith is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He lives in Mount Vernon.

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