Franklin County Tourism Network

Franklin County Tourism Network

Planning Team Meeting 12/11/08

Attendees: Chris Beach and Lloyd Griscom, High Peaks Alliance; Forrest Bonney, Maine

Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; Chris Colin (guest), Unity College; Marc

Edwards, Franklin County Cooperative Extension; Betty Gensel, Coastal Enterprises,

Inc.; Alison Hagerstrom, Greater Franklin Development Corp.; Fred Hardy, Franklin

County Commissioner; Bruce Hazard and Shaunacy Cobb, Mountain Counties Heritage;

Dina Jackson (phone), Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments; Evelyn

McAllister, Rangeley Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce; and Lorna Nichols, Franklin

County Chamber of Commerce.

High Peaks Alliance presentation. The meeting began with a presentation from Chris

Beach about the High Peaks Alliance’s backcountry trail system and the Maine

Appalachian Trail Land Trust’s High Peaks Initiative. He started his presentation with a

video about the High Peaks region created by Chris Collins, one of his students at Unity

College.

The High Peaks Alliance is a group of local citizens with a vision for the High Peaks

region (stretches from Weld to the Bigelows) that connects communities through a

backcountry trail system. They believe that planned residential and commercial

development in the ring of existing communities (Rangeley, Phillips, Carrabasset Valley,

and Eustis ) and resorts surrounding the High Peaks will succeed in combination with

conservation to secure the area for timber harvesting and four-season backcountry

recreation. They are providing a forum for local people to consider different perspectives

(motorized vs. non-motorized recreation groups) and share ideas about projects like new

multiple- use backcountry trails and improved landowner relations. Lloyd stressed that

these conversations start with mutual respect and cooperation to find common ground.

Chris also mentioned the need to brand the area and actively promote it as a region.

There were questions about the Navy land coming into play with the closing of the

Brunswick Naval Air Station. Chris explained that there has been no conversation about

this land becoming available and that it will continue to be a survival training ground. It

is his understanding that if the Navy were to give up the property, it would be first

available to government users, then non-profits to purchase, and finally private businesses.

Bruce was interested in the planning aspect since there has never been a fully developed

plan for the area (best places for development, set aside for timber harvest and

recreation). Chris explained that two seniors at Unity College have created a High Peaks

Recreation Plan that tries to accommodate a variety of uses and depends on voluntary

permissions from landowners.

The Alliance is currently made up of a core group of 10 people with signatures from an

additional 50 citizens supporting the vision. They are working their way through the

towns and recruiting selectmen. The group needs help communicating their vision to

more residents and visitors through general outreach, invitations to meetings, support

letters and conversations about local collaboration.

High Peaks Forest Legacy project presentation. The High Peaks Initiative of the

Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust is working to build a larger land base of conserved

lands through a public and private partnership. The High Peaks Initiative intends to

conserve land in the vicinity of the Appalachian Trail for multiple motorized and nonmotorized

uses while continuing its tradition as a working forest with sensitivity towards

special ecological areas. The funding is a combination of private, individual donations

and foundations.

The High Peaks Initiative’s Forest Legacy Project resulted from a meeting with county

commissioners that was covered heavily by the press and came to the governor’s

attention. MATLT was invited by the state to submit a Forest Legacy application. If

approved, this federally financed grant would provide money to support the working

forest through conservation easements that guarantee public access. There is no plan for

the National Park Service to expand their area along the Appalachian Trail. Marc

explained that the NPS mandate is to provide parks and land for use by the American

people and that legislation dictates what the users are. The current partners on the High

Peaks Initiative Forest Legacy Project are three major timber operators and the Maine

Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Wild Brook Trout Initiative presentation. Forrest Bonney from Maine IF&W spoke

about the Wild Brook Trout Initiative. He feels that the wild brook trout resource in the

backcountry ponds is underutilized and under marketed when it could be used to attract

anglers to Franklin County. Out of the 32,000 miles of streams in Maine, approximately

25,000 have brook trout. Most anglers who visit the state are not interested in harvesting,

most practice “catch, and release.” A majority of these remote ponds in Franklin County are

publicly accessible with current permissions from landowners with a few controlled by

fishing clubs.

Marc had heard from several guides that expanding fly- fishing only to some of these

ponds would help their business. Forrest responded that the mortality from spin bait

versus fly- fishing is the same, using live bait has the biggest impact on mortality rates.

Forrest explained that the average size of the fish has actually decreased because of

restrictions launched in 1990; these regulations have caused an increase in fish

populations which can cause more parasites and competition over resources.

IF&W needs a mechanism to let people know what is available for marketing. A majority

of these ponds require a hike in, allowing for an isolationist experience with beautiful

scenery and abundant wildlife. It would be ideal to bring together lodging, guides, and

the licenses into a package. Working with Maine Huts and Trails could also have a great

benefit. The Chambers and the Maine Lakes and Mountains Tourism Council would like

to gather more information from Forrest to include in their guidebooks and websites.

Marc would like to talk further with Forrest to see how they can incorporate his work

with local guides.

Cooperative Extension Customer Survey presentation. Marc presented on the

Franklin County Visitor Survey results. This presentation is about the Franklin County

Tourism Network workgroup page at http://www.mainewoodsconsortium.org. Marc learned a

lot from this process and felt that he could improve the design for next year to increase

reliability. He plans on going through and separating out specific businesses, parsing out

individual characteristics and doing additional number crunching to see what other trends

emerge. There will be community-based meetings next year to roll out this data. He

would like to start again in the spring with a wider net to capture data beyond just nature

based tourism. Also, Marc is very interested in looking at marketing beyond websites

through social networking sites and podcasts. He may run tests with small businesses to

determine how effective marketing through these outlets can be.

Tourism Training presentation. The Training Program conversation began with

summaries of the workshops offered this fall. Betty reported that the Customer Service

Training in Rangeley was a success with 60 attendees and a wait list. She felt they could

have charged an additional $5 and still had the same attendance. Feedback received

centered around the short amount of time to teach the subject with requests for more

hands on examples and delving into specific scenarios. Overall feedback was very

positive and Betty has the contact information for businesses for future follow-up.

Dina reported on the Tourism Marketing Workshop that she facilitated with Greg Gould.

Turnout was a little disappointing, 14 people signed up but only 10 attended. The group

was heavy on the lodging side and very engaged with the topic. Dina and Greg

emphasized the need for businesses to differentiate themselves in the market. Many

businesses said they were going to go back and rework their current marketing plans or

write one. There was expressed need for help creating ads since few can afford an

agency. This could lead to future workshops on brochure design, website improvement,

and marketing strategies.

Bruce gave a quick update on the Maine Woods Training Program. Both the Franklin

County Tourism Network and the Maine Woods RDT group have shown great interest in

training. The question then becomes how to structure an ongoing training program to

address employee and business needs. There are opportunities already available through

the community college system, UMaine system, private consultants, and non-profits.

How can these be tied together to meet the need? The Betterment Fund has given $15,000

to support the development of a training program. Funding still needs to be found for

implementation. The hope is that this will be woven into a statewide system of handling

training and business support.

Carolann Ouellette at MOT had suggested looking at ways to send employees to training

opportunities outside Maine. Marc and Chris wondered if there was a way to offer

scholarships so business leaders could go the National Association of Interpretation

conference next year in Hartford.

Communications platform for this network. The final conversation centered on the

need for a communications platform for FCTN. The primary questions are: how to inform

businesses about upcoming workshops, promote collaboration between businesses,

educate about shared marketing opportunities and offer a way to share successes. Lorna

suggested using the weekly bulletin that reaches over 800 through a collaboration of the 3

chambers. She also suggested using press releases in local papers. Marc volunteered to

write an op-ed for the local papers talking about what is going on with tourism in

Franklin County. Dina suggested asking the businesses directly how they get their

information perhaps through a survey monkey.

This conversation brought up concerns about duplication of efforts. An additional

conversation in January and a meeting with interested parties will address this issue.

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