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Case Studies: Down East Maine - A grassroots sustainable tourism plan
Used by permission of The International Ecotourism Society

"Down East Maine has incredible natural and cultural resources and, unfortunately, uneven visitation patterns. Acadia National Park receives three million visits a year while areas of Washington County looking to develop their tourism economies go undiscovered. With the DESTINY 2000 plan, we hope to reduce pressures on Acadia while developing other sustainable tourism opportunities Down East that will encourage economic development while protecting the region's resources."

Stephanie Clement, Conservation Director,
Friends of Acadia

DESTINY 2000 Mission Statement:
To provide for the conservation of local natural resources, preservation of cultural heritage, and regional economic development for the present and future communities of Washington and Hancock counties through sustainable development of cultural and nature tourism opportunities.

In the mid 1990s , the increase in tourism in the Down East region of Maine led to the formation of a volunteer citizens group to preserve and protect natural resources while promoting jobs, tourism and the quality of life. The group helped create the DESTINY 2000 grassroots plan that reflects the planning and research carried out by regional stakeholders. It addresses the strategies needed to implement sustainable tourism in scenic Maine.

Down East Maine is on the northeastern coast and includes two counties, which have a population of approximately 82,000. Down East is comprised of 1,200 coastal islands. Although Down East Maine is a major source of seafood, tourism is ranked above the fishing industry as the leading employer. The Down East region is famous for Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, the third largest island on the east coast. Ferries operate from the ports and transport visitors to various destinations around Mount Desert Island. Whale-watching tours leave from Eastport, the easternmost city in the United States, and chartered interpretive cruises transport tourists along the coast to Canada.

Creating Goals for Sustainable Tourism
Four key goals were developed early in the community planning process:

  • To maintain a unique and healthy natural environment capable of supporting
    nature-based tourism.
  • To establish and maintain local coordination, ownership and retention of related economic benefits.
  • To maintain ecological and cultural sustainability, so that future generations are left with the same quality of resources and opportunities as the present generation.
  • To create/develop a means of education and interpretation for the communities to further the goals of sustainability in the region.

Key issues identified included:

  • Infrastructure challenges
  • Maximizing the cultural resources of Washington and Hancock counties
  • Marketing
  • Education
  • Land-use planning
  • Fostering new partnerships
  • Accreditation and codes of practice

The plan, proposes strategies for achieving five sustainable tourism goals which include:

  • Economic Development: Create new employment and business opportunities, and ensure local retention of economic benefits from tourism.
  • Ecological Consideration: Ensure that increased numbers of tourists and related business do not degrade the quality of natural areas.
  • Cultural Preservation: Protect and revitalize historical places and traditions.
  • Local Coordination: Ensure collaboration among local citizen groups working on tourism, and ensure local ownership and decision-making power.
  • Education: Inform the local community and visitors about the natural and cultural history of the area.

Grassroots Efforts and Cooperation Builds
The Fifth Annual Sustainable Tourism Conference built on the previous conference, and featured local field trips, "The Taste of Down East Maine" reception, and workshops. The theme of the conference was "Down East Sustainable Tourism Through Grassroots Efforts." Field trips were organized to showcase local natural and cultural destinations. State parks, artist cooperatives, wreath-making companies and historical museums were visited and discussed. A projects and strategies list was developed and serves to guide continuing community efforts.

Strategies and Accomplishments

Broadening the shoulder season

Explore opportunities for expanding the tourism season, possibly extending money-making opportunities throughout the year. The Down East region of Maine receives its highest overnight occupancy rates from July 1 to Sept. 1. As a result, the region's towns sought to promote cultural attractions during other months.

"The Blue Hill Heritage" festival, held in October featured story-telling, boat-building and quilt-making demonstrations.

The "Come See What's Cooking" event was created by the Hancock Planning Commission and was also held in October. A guide was published for visitors and featured a week-long itinerary for patronizing local restaurants that use local growers/producers.

In early June, the "Warblers and Wildflowers" festival offered interpretive guided tours to observe birds and flora, and interpretive talks were given on warblers and wildflowers. The Northeast has the most diverse variety of warblers in the United States.

Planning byways and bike lanes

Help provide the infrastructure capable of supporting and managing increased tourism by designating scenic byways and adding bike lanes.

Mass transportation

A third strategy was to promote the use of mass transportation where appropriate, to develop the necessary infrastructure, and to encourage public transportation in order to minimize the environmental impact and congestion.

A boost for marketing

A fourth strategy was to refine and increase publicity for and marketing of the Down East region as a unique cultural destination.

Monitoring the impact of increased tourism

A strategy was devised to implement a system for monitoring the effects of increased tourism on ecological systems. Acadia National Park, in conjunction with the University of Vermont, has set up a system to monitor visitor carrying-capacity for the carriage roads. Cameras are used to count the number of people using the roads and monitor for an identified carrying capacity per day.

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