December 1, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: The way life should be begins outdoors

The way life should be. What exactly does it mean?

It’s a relevant question this time of year for me because every time I visit family outside the state, I’m reminded when driving by that sign near the New Hampshire border of what the way life should be means to me. Each time I pass it, I think how remarkably lucky I was to have landed in this place that became my home 18 years ago.

To me the way life should be is about living near wild areas or in wild areas that make neighbors of owls, foxes, moose, turtles and terns. The way life should be is about being able to get to those wild areas. And it refers to the outdoor cultures there. Because maybe we couldn’t have one without the other: the wild areas without people who care about them.

So I give thanks for that.

And the past year proved that even in tough economic times Maine’s robust outdoor cultures continue to be resilient, robust and passionate.

To start with, it was a winter of good news.

While Maine’s two big mountains continue to invest millions in low-energy snow-making technology, many of Maine’s smaller ski areas proved resilient. After closing for a year, Big Squaw in Greenville sprang back to life with the help of an all-volunteer crew of feisty locals who love to ski; and Black Mountain of Rumford lost its financial support from the Maine Winter Sports Center but gained a corps of devoted fans who fought to raise more than $100,000 to keep it open.

Then there’s the Camden Snow Bowl, where a $2 million bond approved by townspeople will fund $6.5 million in mountain improvements, proving a love for skiing runs deep in Maine, even along the coast.

But the past year, there also were signs that more traditional outdoor sports are going strong.

A southern Maine trapping club in Kezar Falls showed trapping is alive and well in this corner of the state. The Western Maine chapter of the Maine Trappers Association burst on the scene with 50 members.

Islesboro people took their growing deer herd problem into their hands, creating the island’s first firearm hunt.

Roxanne Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, took over her effort to turn roughly 150,000 acres into a national park in northern Maine, and in a game-changing move appeased locals by opening 40,000 acres to hunting.

And a study by this newspaper proved hunting thrives in southern Maine, where a decade of tagging station data reveals some of the top 10 hunting towns in Maine are near urban centers such as Windham, Gorham, Standish and York.

Meanwhile, a wealth of other outdoor groups showed growth.

Maine explored two national models for new bike programs with Portland considering a Bike Share program similar to what’s taken off in Boston, Denver and New York City; and in September Bike Maine’s inaugural tour proved a success.

The 400-mile tour added Maine to the list of states that host a multiday, cross-country bike adventure as 251 riders came from 37 states and Canada. They spent an estimated $235,000 in rural communities here, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

The Maine Master Naturalist Program entered its third year, turning out more than 50 volunteer naturalists across the state to serve as unpaid docents and naturalists.

The Maine Huts and Trails in the western mountains opened its fourth hut during the busiest year, with 3,932 guests staying overnight along the 50-mile, groomed, linear trail.

And the best good news for outdoor readers, as well as yours truly … not one of the great white sharks tagged on the Ocearch research vessel in Massachusetts ventured to Maine waters this fall.

So much to be thankful for in Maine where the way life should be has a lot to do with the outdoors. If not everything.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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