Ice climbing is one of the many unique winter experiences at Grafton Notch State Park. (Photo credit: Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands)
As the most rural state in the United States, Maine is one of the best destinations to reconnect with nature. “Vacationland” has been the slogan on Maine license plates since 1936, serving to promote the state’s reputation as a premier vacation destination. Visitors to Maine discover a unique natural environment with seemingly endless outdoor recreation opportunities.
It is estimated that Maine’s outdoor economy adds more than $3 billion to the state economy and 41,000 jobs annually. Between 2005 and 2021, the total number of visitors to Maine State Parks increased from just over 2 million to 3.2 million visitors.
Nicknamed “The Pine Tree State,” Maine’s sprawling forests transform into a winter recreation haven once the snow begins to fall. Maine’s heavily forested landscape supports these outdoor recreation activities.
Because 92 percent of Maine’s forest land is privately owned, it is a natural partner for USDA Forest Service programs that improve conservation and strengthen outdoor recreational opportunities at the landscape level.
Tucked away in Maine’s western mountains, Mount Blue and Grafton Notch State Parks are two popular winter destinations that have benefited from the strong partnership between the USDA Forest Service and the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands under the Forest Legacy Program.
Mount Blue State Park offers ice skating, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and many other winter activities, all within sight of the magnificent mountain views. The area also hosts many family events and programs that strengthen the bond between the park and the land to the local community.
Ice skating at Mt Blue State Park. (Photo credit: Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands)
In 2002, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which manages the park, partnered with the Forest Legacy Program to nearly double the size of this park to expand conservation efforts and improve visitor recreation opportunities.
West of Mount Blue State Park is Grafton Notch State Park and Mahoosuc Public Lands. These areas offer remote, rugged, and backcountry activities as well as snowmobile and ATV access on designated trails. Its proximity to the Grafton Notch Scenic Byway and the Appalachian Trail offers scenic hiking and snowmobiling routes, including the Appalachian Trail’s most rugged mile – the Mahoosuc Notch.
With 14,500 miles of scenic snowmobile trails, Grafton Notch provides a vital link to other snowmobile destinations. A number of protected areas and easements, including over 7,000 acres protected through the Forest Legacy program, enable landscape-wide protection of this amazing natural area and demonstrate the importance of strong partnerships in conserving land and providing outdoor recreation opportunities.
Rugged terrain isn’t the only option, however, and visitors can also take short walks to enjoy the incredible waterfalls and gorges. Abundant wildlife also attracts many bird watchers and hunters, further adding to the endless recreational opportunities.
Mt Blue snowshoe trail. (Photo credit: Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands)
These are just two of more than 20 investments that both the Forest Service and the state have made in Maine over the past several decades, but certainly won’t be the last. With the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, providing permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the source of funding for several federal conservation programs, including the Forest Legacy Program. Work is already underway to add 4,300 acres to Maine’s conservation portfolio through the 2021 funded East Grand Weston Forest Legacy Project.
In terms of the acres protected under the program and the outdoor recreation opportunities supported by this important federal-state partnership, Maine lives up to its state motto, Dirigo—“I lead.”