The Weston Station Dam releases water Wednesday into the Kennebec River in downtown Skowhegan. Water Street can be seen to the right. Town officials continue to push several projects that would position Skowhegan as a regional draw for outdoor enthusiasts, including River Park, which is planned for the portion of the Kennebec River that runs through the downtown area. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — Several projects are moving forward that town officials hope will position Skowhegan as a regional destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Those efforts include the much-touted downtown Skowhegan River Park along the Kennebec River, a free outdoor gear rental program and the construction of a 50-mile trail system that officials said is expected to boost the local economy and encourage people who enjoy the outdoors to visit and even settle in Skowhegan.

Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, said Wednesday the organization has identified the outdoor recreation industry and food and beverage businesses as among the town’s primary areas for economic growth in the coming years.

“Building infrastructure is one part of the process,” Cannon wrote in an email. “Offering programming and skill-building workshops is also critical to help achieve community transformation through outdoor recreation.”

In an effort to keep the momentum going, Maine Street Skowhegan is partnering with the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation, The Roux Institute at Northeastern University and others to host an Outdoor Rec & Tech Summit this week, culminating Friday with a $3,000 pitch competition.

“This type of programming from The Roux Institute supports innovation in the outdoor industry that helps to grow the outdoor recreation economy and entrepreneurial spirit in Maine,” Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation, said in a statement.


The Roux Institute has run similar summits in Waterville, Lewiston and Portland, and Cannon said participants this week will work in groups to solve challenges facing the outdoor recreation industry in Maine. She said 30 to 40 people are registered for the event.

A footbridge crosses over the Kennebec River below the Weston Station Dam in downtown Skowhegan on Wednesday. The portion of the river just downstream from the bridge is approximately where officials are planning the River Park, which would have enhanced whitewater waves to allow for whitewater kayaking, tubing and other activities. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

A 2021 market analysis conducted by an economic development consulting firm for Main Street Skowhegan found the outdoor recreation industry accounts for 4.4% of jobs in town. Cannon said the town’s largest employer in that field is New Balance, a company that has plans to add 200 jobs at its Skowhegan facility.

Outdoor recreation makes up about 5% of Maine’s economy, which is more than double the national average, according to the 2021 report.

Cannon said she hopes more industry employers will be drawn to Skowhegan in the coming years as the town invests in downtown infrastructure and development projects valued at $650 million.

Efforts to increase regional broadband access could also attract employers to the town, said Jeff Hewett, Skowhegan’s director of economic and community development. By settling in Skowhegan, outdoor enthusiasts and businesses can enjoy remote regions of Maine without the worry of losing online access, he said.

River Park is a primary project that officials hope will draw visitors. The $17.2 million project will transform the portion of the Kennebec River that runs through the downtown area. It is now largely inaccessible to the public, but the plan is to transform it with enhanced whitewater features, audience seating and green space along the banks.


Investors have begun launching restaurant and hospitality businesses downtown in anticipation of the project’s draw, Cannon said. River Park is concluding its permitting phase, and construction could begin as soon as the fall.

Cannon’s organization is also working on initiatives to increase access to the outdoors. For instance, there is a free gear library, available by appointment, from which Somerset County residents can rent outdoor equipment, including skis, snowshoes, bicycles, canoes, camping gear and winter clothing.

Connected to the River Park project is an effort to add to Skowhegan’s trail system, with the intention of having 50 miles of walking and biking paths.

“We’re trying to work with (all-terrain vehicle) groups and the snowmobile trail groups to develop the outdoor activity functions that a lot of the younger generation is looking for,” Hewett said.

The trails would also include single-track paths for mountain biking, a sport that is a “huge economic driver” in some Vermont communities, Cannon said.

All trails are expected to be accessible from downtown, she said, although the project is still in its planning phase.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: