2023 Maine Outdoor Economy Summit: Shaping the Future of Maine’s Outdoor Economy

In by Rebecka Dykstra

The 2023 Maine Outdoor Economy Summit, produced by the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation and Maine Outdoor Brands, gathered over 350 outdoor enthusiasts, industry leaders, and visionaries to shape the future of Maine’s outdoor sector. Read on for the recap of the event!

The Summit kicked off with a range of outdoor adventures in the Rockport area, fostering connections and setting the tone for an eventful Summit. Participants immersed themselves in Maine’s natural beauty, from a hike up the iconic Beech Hill Preserve with accessibility advocate Enock Glidden to a session on mindfulness in nature with Happier Outside, exploring the Goose River Trail Network with Coastal Mountains Land Trust and the local chapter of New England Mountain Bike Association, taking a dip in the cold waters with Saltwater Mountain Co., or joining a tour of Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding to gain insights into the diverse aspects of the outdoor recreation economy.

The Summit opened with a focus on the Maine Outdoor Economy Roadmap. Attendees participated in an interactive workshop facilitated by Fourth Economy, co-creating solutions to strengthen Maine’s outdoor recreation economy. The day continued with an opening kick-off reception sponsored by L.L.Bean, providing networking opportunities over hors d’oeuvres (including a charcuterie canoe!) and beer from Maine Beer Company. We were honored to have Governor Janet Mills in attendance.

As evening fell, attendees were treated to the New England premiere of the World Trails Film Fest, brought to the event by Maine Trails Coalition, showcasing breathtaking trail experiences from around the globe.

Thursday morning started early with a bike ride led by Maine Sport Outfitters. The day unfolded with informative sessions, including a moving opening keynote by cultural preservationist Jennifer Neptune and a deep dive into the state of the outdoor market by Kelly Davis from the Outdoor Industry Association.

Maine GearShare was on site mending gear in need of repair, ranging from stuck zippers and torn nylon to broken backpack buckles and straps.

At the heart of the Maine Outdoor Economy Summit were the engaging breakout sessions, each offering a unique exploration into the diverse facets of the outdoor industry. In the insightful ‘Opening Doors to the Outdoors: A Discussion on Inclusive Recreation in Maine,’ Ponch Membreño from MOB’s Board of Directors, Bri Dostie representing Confluence Collective, Alejandro Strong of Packraft Maine, Zachary McCarthy from Inclusive Ski Touring, and Nyamuon “Moon” Nguany shared success stories and strategies to make outdoor recreation accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or abilities.

At ‘How Intelligent is AI?’, Kevin Kayne of Blaze Partners delved into the world of artificial intelligence, showcasing demos of popular AI tools. The session conducted experiments to explore AI’s influence on outdoor activities and product development, leaving participants more informed about its potential and limitations.

In ‘Acknowledgement to Action: How Communities are Embracing Recreation Based Economies’, Gabe Perkins from Inland Woods + Trails, George O’Keefe representing the Town of Rumford, Mike Smith from Outdoor Sport Institute, Steve Kasacek also from Outdoor Sport Institute, and Kristina Cannon of Main Street Skowhegan shed light on creative strategies for economic and community development in specific regions. Partnerships, programming, and key priorities were discussed, offering valuable takeaways for growing local economies through outdoor recreation.

‘Chain of Survival: From Retail to Rescue’ brought together a panel of experts, including William Cyr from LifeFlight of Maine, Josh Bubier representing the Maine Warden Service, Michael Wejchert of Mountain Rescue Service, Jenny Ward from the Appalachian Mountain Club, Chip Noble from Garmin, and David Berez of Maine Sport Outfitters. The session offered comprehensive insights into emergency preparedness, gear selection, communication tools, and search-rescue-recovery operations, illuminating the intricate Chain of Survival in remote outdoor accidents.

Transitioning to sustainability, ‘From Take-Make-Waste to Circular: Outdoor Industry’s Sustainable Revolution’ featured Emily Foster from Burton, James Merrill representing Opolis, Marshall Merriam of Uphill Advisory, Samantha Cuccaro from Toad&Co, and Mark Thibadeau of NEMO Equipment. Trailblazing brands shared their approaches to circular economies, extending product lifecycles, optimizing resource usage, and championing product recycling for a more sustainable future.

‘Trends in Outdoor Hospitality’, led by Scott Bahr (Cairn Consulting), Shay Bellas (Navitour), and Cassandra Prenn-Vasilakis (Hipcamp), explored the growing opportunities in outdoor hospitality for rural economic development. The session covered camping and glamping trends, offering insights for communities to benefit from the expanding tourism and outdoor recreation industries.

‘Finding Joy in the Pain Points’, Matthew Ketchum and Kristy Phinney of Rinck Advertising explored educating consumers without offense. Participants delved into identifying audience needs, reframing pain points into touchpoints, and creating lasting consumer joy.

In the ‘Preparing The Next Generation of Outdoor Leaders in Rural Maine’ session, speakers Korah Soll (Rural Aspirations Project), Angela Cowger (East Grand School), and Tammi Matula (East Grand School) shed light on the remarkable outdoor education program at East Grand School. This program empowers students to develop leadership and stewardship skills, providing insights into creating pathways for students to pursue a Recreational Maine Guide license.

At ‘Navigating Brand and Non-Profit Partnerships for Mutual Success,’ led by Attessa Bradley (Grandy Organics), Scarlet Batchelor (Appalachian Mountain Club), Kayla Lessard (L.L.Bean), and Ray Ruby (Maine Cancer Foundation), explored the art of creating impactful collaborations between companies and causes in the outdoor sector. Real-world case studies revealed triumphs and pitfalls, offering valuable insights for forging lasting partnerships.

The ‘Creating Queer Inclusive Outdoor Spaces’ session, hosted by Hallie Herz and Eva Fury (Kindling Collective), challenged participants to build authentic, inclusive spaces in the outdoors. The discussion went beyond superficial considerations, encouraging tangible culture change and fostering joy and affirmation for all individuals.

In ‘Stewarding Public Access to the Outdoors’, speakers Kristopher MacCabe (Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife), Jane Arbuckle (Maine Coast Heritage Trust), James Cote (Maine Professional Guides Association/Maine Snowmobile Association), Mitch Breton (onX Maps), and Emily MacCabe (Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife) explored Maine’s unique history of public access to private land. The panel emphasized the importance of stewardship and responsible use of these lands, providing insights into programs and partnerships dedicated to building a stewardship ethic.

Each breakout session contributed to the richness of the summit, providing a comprehensive exploration of the outdoor industry’s diverse landscape.

The day concluded with a lunch session featuring the next generation of outdoor industry leaders – high school students from the Midcoast School of Technology’s Outdoor Leadership Program, offering a fresh perspective on the future of the industry.

The evening brought the Discovery Marketplace & Industry Celebration, where attendees could enjoy great food, drinks sponsored by Allagash Brewing Company, and early holiday shopping from more than 30 Maine-based brands.

Maine Outdoor Brands also presented their annual Trailblazer Awards, awarding Hearty Roots with the Outdoor Innovation award for their Taproot Therapeutic Adventure program, Kristina Cannon (President and CEO of Main Street Skowhegan) with the Outdoor Industry Leader of the Year award, and Mahoosuc Guide Service & Penobscot Guides with the Outdoor Brand Collaboration award.

Fireside festivities followed, with s’mores, music, and wood-fired pizza.

The final day of the Summit began with a breakfast opening and an engaging Affordable Housing Plenary Roundtable, discussing the challenges associated with workforce housing in Maine communities and ways the outdoor industry can be involved in finding solutions. The Summit wrapped up with a final industry visioning session for the Maine Outdoor Economy Roadmap focusing on workforce development.

The event blended outdoor experiences, insightful discussions, and collaborative workshops, leaving attendees equipped to continue contributing to the growth and sustainability of Maine’s outdoor recreation sector. As the Summit wrapped up, participants left with new connections, a shared commitment to shaping the future of Maine’s outdoor economy, and stickers (many, many stickers!). Oh, and one lucky raffle winner went home with an Old Town Kayak and Malone trailer!