As a state that relies heavily on tourism and recreation as one of its primary economic forces, Maine has been squandering one of its most valuable assets for far too long: the land and open space that locals and visitors love so much.

I have lived in Colorado and the Midwest, visited Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and many other places around this beautiful country. Each time I return home from those places and I see how much potential this beautiful state has to further develop its economy and improve the quality of life for Maine residents.

Matthew Foster

Parks and recreation are often overlooked and are typically the first to be cut at the municipal level. Many people see recreation as a “non-essential,” but during the COVID-19 crisis, people have seen just how important these resources are. People need outdoor recreation amenities and the quality of life that comes with them; things like mountain biking trails, hiking trails, terrain parks, rock climbing areas, skateboard parks, tennis courts, basketball courts, athletic fields, splash pads, outdoor pools, boat landings, natural areas, etc. — with bathrooms, parking lots, maps and advertising so that people can find and enjoy them.

Although we have many of these amenities, many of them have been poorly designed, implemented and maintained because of the lack of funding and prioritization.

Although Maine has an incredible opportunity to develop outdoor recreation for the citizens and visitors, so do neighboring states of New Hampshire, Vermont, western Massachusetts and upstate New York. You are either a leader, or you are going to fall behind.

My wife and I often think of moving back to Colorado, but we love Maine. We both grew up here. This is where our family is and it is where we would like to stay.

If support can be found for projects that our communities need to help tap into their local assets, there is no reason Maine cannot become more attractive and more affordable to visit than places such as Colorado and Alaska. We are blessed to be the vacation land of the East Coast — one of the largest population centers in the United States — and Maine is one of the easiest and cheapest to visit; yet people pay thousands of dollars to visit other places.

With one of the most beautiful coastlines in the country and widely varied landscapes, from the rugged and bold coast of the Down East to the Western Mountains, from the ancient migratory bird-ways of Merrymeeting Bay to the Desert of Maine, from the mighty rivers of the St. John, Penobscot, Kennebec and Androscoggin to the vast shores of Moosehead Lake, and from the unmatched fall foliage to the fish and wildlife that are so abundant for us to hunt and fish — we are all blessed to call Maine home.

Recently, senators in Washington, D.C., passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which will permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provide additional funding that is needed for the national park system, as well as other publicly protected lands. I have faith that the House will be next to pass this legislation on to be signed by President Trump.

Arguably, the most important thing this legislation will do for Maine is increase its share of state-side funding from just over $2 million in 2020 to between $3.5 and $4.25 million annually. Municipal and state parks and recreation facilities have been underfunded for years and rely heavily on those funds to build and maintain important outdoor recreation amenities.

With those funds requiring a 50% match, there is a great need for the state of Maine to pass legislation that would establish a sustainable revenue stream to help local and state applicants leverage the increased LWCF funding, as well as other federal conservation and outdoor recreation-related funding programs. That could ultimately pump $7 million to $8.5 million per year into the state’s economy by building or rehabilitating outdoor recreation facilities.

It is time to rally the support needed to create the legislation that will help Maine communities improve their quality of life. Let’s give people more reasons to visit and choose Maine as their new home. Let’s give our state another arrow in its quiver to strengthen its economy and guarantee citizens a brighter future.

Let’s give Maine a sustainable funding stream to invest in outdoor recreation that isn’t subject to borrowing, bonding or political whims. That fund will be the “match” that we have been longing for.

Maine needs to get back to its roots and start playing outside again.

Matthew Foster, CPRP, is director of parks and recreation for the town of Farmington. 

Comments are not available on this story.