February 23rd, 2021
Safe and Responsible Use of the Maine Outdoors
Over the last several years there has been an enormous surge in the recreational use of the Maine outdoors, from the rocky coast to the big woods to the mountain peaks. More people of all ages, interests, and abilities than ever before have discovered the health and fitness benefits of time well spent exercising and having fun in the woods and on the waters of our beautiful Pine Tree State.
But there are downsides to this recreation boom, like overcrowded beaches, jammed parking lots, unauthorized campfires, trashed campsites, and a marked increase in trail erosion. There’s more garbage and litter, unwanted noise, improper disposal of human and pet waste, and an alarming rise in emergency calls and rescues.
These unfortunate problems are negatively impacting our natural resources, degrading the experience for visitors and residents alike, and causing considerable distress among land managers, property owners, and tourism officials, becoming a wholly unsustainable situation.
“After COVID-19 hit and the pandemic continued to spread, we saw an enormous rise in the number of people out there, reports of property damage, the many complaints and concerns,” said Steve Lyons, the director of Maine’s Office of Tourism. “About 95 percent of Maine’s forest land is privately owned and about half of that is open to the public through the generosity of the landowners. When the Maine Warden Service reported a substantial increase in landowner requests for “Access By Permission Only” signs, it was a clear indication of concern over user numbers and behavior.
That’s when outdoor and tourism leaders around the state rallied together and approached the MOT to develop a message to help ameliorate the problems. The result was the Look Out for ME campaign, the goal of which is “to ensure that visitors and residents alike venture out safely and responsibly with a great respect for the land we all love and cherish.” Per MOT’s website, the initiative is a blueprint for “how we can all do our part to conserve the state’s natural resources, season after season, and for generations to come.”
The Look Out for ME message is pretty straightforward:
Check out your intended destination in advance and know the rules and regulations. Travel only on designated trails and roads. Visit places outside of peak hours and always have a Plan B to avoid disappointment. Don’t transport firewood and clean and dry your boots and boats to reduce the spread of invasive species. Be careful with fire, use only designated sites, and don’t harm green trees.
But wait, there’s more.
Don’t litter, pack out your garbage and that of others less thoughtful. Bag and dispose of your dog’s waste similarly. Practice proper hygiene: know how and where to dig a cat hole for poop and take the used toilet paper and wipes out with you in a plastic bag. Be personally prepared by carrying the “Ten Essentials” (a handful of emergency items that should always be in your pack). Choose an activity that fits your experience and fitness level and let someone responsible at home know your plans.
Prepare For Getting Lost or Injured
There are a lot of people in the Maine woods these days trying a host of recreational activities for the first time and they are often approaching these pursuits unprepared and getting into trouble. This poses an undue risk for the enthusiasts themselves, impacts the environment, and creates extra headaches for land managers and public safety officials.
“Maine is a big, beautiful place,” said Andy Cutko, the Director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. “But it’s also remote and wild, so it’s far too easy to get into trouble if you aren’t properly prepared, and help can be a long way off in terms of both hours and miles.”
Based on trends in campground reservations to date, Cutko expects that 2022 will be another record year in the Maine outdoors and he’s hoping that the Look Out for ME effort will be a big help in getting the message out to visitors, preferably well in advance of when they get here.
“We want people to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly, and to leave the state better than when they arrived,” said Lyons.
That’s a good thing for Maine, Mainers, and visitors alike, now and for future generations. Look Out for ME is another important step in striving to achieve a healthy and sustainable balance of tourism, natural resources, economic development, and residential quality of life. Let’s all do our part.
LOOK OUT FOR ME
To learn more about Look Out for ME, find great resources for planning a safe, responsible, and enjoyable outdoor adventure, and discover ways you can help spread the word, visit the Maine Office of Tourism at visitmaine.com/look-out-for-me.
Story and Photos by Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island, ME. Cary is freelance writer, avid hiker and beer drinker, and the author of the new book, Beer Hiking New England (available later this year).