Every five years the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands puts out a report on how residents and visitors spend their time outdoors. But when the 2014 report is released this summer, it will shed greater light on why people recreate in Vacationland. A survey being conducted by the bureau and the University of Maine is expected to give state parkland managers this insight.

The report is required every five years to get federal money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As much as $400,000 in federal grants has been received in Maine over the past five years to help fund land acquisitions at state parks, outdoor programs and projects to encourage more Mainers outdoors. The National Park Service administers the funds.

The report, called the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, is required by all states to help decide what outdoor recreation programs get funding. But for the first time, Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands is working with the University of Maine on an in-depth survey to understand how tourists and residents choose to enjoy the outdoors here. And the sample size already is considered significant: 14,000 entering the final week of the survey’s administration, said University of Maine assistant professor Sandra De Urioste-Stone.

“We’re very happy with the response rate,” said De Urioste-Stone, who is conducting the survey. “Now we can talk with confidence about what Maine residents think of recreational opportunities, and what they like to pursue. Plus we should be able to compare by counties. We can only do that if we have enough people responding. Online surveys have a smaller response rate. But we had incentives.”

The survey, which ends Thursday, can be taken at the website link: http://sgiz.mobi/s3/2dee4dd03696

De Urioste-Stone expected between 1,200 to 1,500 people would respond to the online survey, which was emailed to the bureau’s list of outdoor users. But a raffle offering prizes for those completing the survey likely drew more, she said. And she suspects the subject matter was relevant to many who recreate outdoors in Maine.

“We’ve had a lot of people emailing saying that they are happy to see this effort being done and to have the chance to provide feedback on what they need,” De Urioste-Stone said.

The survey asks for outdoor activities people enjoy and the counties they recreate in across Maine. It asks the outdoor destinations preferred, as well as the setbacks faced to getting there, be it the cost or lack of transportation. It asks how the people learned about their favorite mountain trail, whitewater river or fishing hole.

“One key area we developed on was tourism, the perception of tourism, that’s never been done in Maine. We’re using a scale they use out West. We’re trying to understand the perception of the resource they use, and things they’d like improved upon,” said De Urioste-Stone in the university’s School of Forest Resources.

Rex Turner, the Maine bureau’s outdoor recreation planner, said it’s still unclear what the survey will reveal, but the results should give new insight into how well Vacationland serves outdoor enthusiasts.

“This is a unique opportunity to ask the broad questions. I’ve worked here for six years and it’s the first time in that time that we’ve probed a little deeper and will gain a little more insight into people’s preferences in outdoor recreation,” Turner said.

In the past five years the federal Land and Water Conservation funds allocated to Maine helped to fund, among other things, acquisitions at the Androscoggin Riverlands State Park and Camden Hills State Park, as well as local projects such as playgrounds that were built from Fort Kent to York County, Turner said.

But the insight gained could prove as important as the federal funds the survey will help secure, Turner said.

Jonathan LaBonte, the executive director of the Androscoggin Land Trust and the mayor of Auburn, said the survey may help reveal the diverse needs among Maine outdoor users. LaBonte pointed out many of those users live in urban areas.

“Whether it’s for an industrial community like Jay and Livermore or a city like Lewiston/Auburn, there are recreational needs in urban areas,”said LaBonte, who serves on the bureau’s advisory committee for its outdoor recreation plan.

“The bureau has a willingness to talk about urban recreation. The old plan didn’t contemplate that as much. Maine is a diverse state, and the needs for recreation vary for urban and rural areas.”

The survey results will be posted on the bureau’s web site this summer, at www.parksandlands.com. Afterward a copy of the state’s recreation plan also will be posted there. 

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph