The High Peaks Alliance recognizes the historic and present role that the forest products industry plays in Western Maine’s economy. Many communities in the region are struggling as the paper products and forestry industries go through changes. Demand for paper is shrinking, lumber markets have shifted, and the shifting ownership of forested land. Large tracts that were once a part of single timber company holdings are now being subdivided and sold. Many locals are concerned that traditional recreational access is being lost.
The good news is that lumber products are still being sold and professional foresters continue to manage Maine’s forests for a variety of wood products. The High Peaks Alliance has explored many avenues of maintaining and enhancing recreational access in working forests of the High Peaks Region. One potential tool is the Community Forest. Community Forests are tracts of wooded land owned and stewarded by a municipality. Communities that own forests can earn income through timber harvests, conserve wildlife habitat, support the local outdoor recreation economy, create space for outdoor education, and permanently conserve scenic vistas.
The Northern Forest Center is a non-profit that works with communities and organizations all over New England. Its mission is to build thriving communities, with thriving forests, and innovative and resilient economies. Their website has a thorough analysis of the evolving wood products industry and the environmental and economic benefits of community-owned forests. There is also a list of successful Community Forest projects in which the Northern Forest Center was a facilitating partner.
In October 2013, the High Peaks Alliance hosted two community forums on the prospect of establishing a community forest in the region. The forums took place in Rangeley and Phillips and were well attended. Attendees included residents of nearby towns as well as representatives from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, and the High Peaks Alliance.
See what those who attended the forum had to say here.