Western Maine’s promising tourism economy needs a boost

As the leaf peepers flock to Maine this week, the Western Mountains region, where the forests are ablaze with color, is prime foliage viewing country.


These tourists bolster western Maine’s economy. In a report released today, MECEP shows that western Maine’s mountains attract five million visitors a year and support 4,000 tourism and related jobs.

MECEP’s report provides information to understand how state investment in tourism-related assets impacts the region’s economy.

Since 2002, public agencies and private foundations have invested $47 million in tourism in Franklin and Oxford counties. This includes funds to conserve tourism assets such as mountains, lakes, and historic sites, and to create tourism amenities such as trails, scenic byways, and cultural events.

This investment, which averaged $4.7 million per year, supported 40-65 jobs per year and stimulated nearly $6 million in additional spending annually at restaurants, inns and hotels, campgrounds, stores, and other local businesses. Tourism jobs in the region were growing slowly before the recession and have rebounded more quickly since the end of the recession, compared to other business sectors like manufacturing, transportation, and education and health services.

MECEP’s analysis indicates that federal, state, and philanthropic funds contribute markedly to the region’s economy and stimulate jobs and economic activity that sustain the region, even in depressed times.

Yet, in recent years the governor and legislature chose not to invest in our rural regions in a way that is proven to create jobs and grow the economy. They rejected bonds that would have helped to conserve tourism lands, construct public tourist amenities like trails, parking, and service facilities, and provide grant funds to make our downtowns more vital. Public funding for downtown redevelopment, especially state funding, has nearly vanished. Policymakers have defunded programs like Communities for Maine’s Future, New Century Communities, and Riverfront Community Development.

Attractive downtowns are necessary to attract tourism businesses like hotels, inns, and restaurants, and the people who use them. To create a diverse tourism economy, the region needs continued investment in conservation and outdoor recreation land and infrastructure, but also for historic preservation, downtown development, and cultural amenities like museums, music halls, and community art centers.

Yes, we need bonds for road improvements and modern college classrooms, but the governor and legislature do Maine a disservice by not also investing in tourism―a promising industry for rural Maine.