Tourism reaches beyond beaches in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont
CONCORD, N.H. -- While plenty of tourists will be heading to northern New England's ocean and lake locations this summer, others will be exploring options beyond the beach.
In New Hampshire, a new interconnected all-terrain vehicle trail system dubbed "Ride the Wilds" will officially open June 15, capping years of work by more than a dozen off-road vehicle clubs that worked with state agencies and local communities to link 1,000 miles of trails across Coos County.
New businesses are springing up along the route, and existing restaurants, motels and shops are hoping for a much-needed economic boost from riders who plan multiday trips, said Harry Brown, president of the North Country OHRV Coalition.
"They're wicked exited," he said.
In Colebrook, Corrine Rober and her husband recently launched Bear Rock Adventures, offering ATV tours and vehicle rentals. She already has heard from potential customers interested in renting ATVs for up to a week at a time and said she is looking forward to exposing them to the wildlife, agriculture and scenic beauty surrounding the trails.
"It's about getting people to see that ATV-ing is far more than just going out and messing around in the dirt. It's a family activity, and it can expose people to areas they otherwise would never experience," she said.
The new trail system comes several years after the opening of Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin, the state's newest and the only one in New England developed for ATVs and snowmobiles. Building on that success, the state Legislature this year passed a pair of bills aimed at attracting more off-road vehicle enthusiasts to the state: One would allow the construction of a separate obstacle course for modified trucks and jeeps at the park, and the other would allow larger, two-passenger motorized vehicles on state-owned trails.
In Maine, there's also been a push in recent years to promote nature-based tourism, in part to drive visitors to far-flung areas where tourism isn't as big as it is along much of the seacoast.
Tourists are being lured to outer areas through attractions such as the Downeast Fisheries Trail in eastern Maine, which showcases the state's maritime heritage; the Maine Huts and Trails network of trails and huts in western Maine; and a statewide bird-watching trail. Whitewater rafting, lakeside cottages and thousands of miles of trails for ATV riders and snowmobilers also have given rural regions economic boosts.
"The shift toward nature-based tourism is getting out into Washington County or Aroostook County," in far eastern and northern Maine, said Charlie Colgan, an economist at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.
"It's another geographic evolution from the 1880s, when Portland was selling itself as the gateway to what you escaped to out of Boston and New York," he said. "It was far away, but you could still get there."
Building a nature-based tourism industry requires having reasonable amenities in accessible locations, he said. While some people want an Appalachian Trail-like experience where they can hike with a backpack and sleep in a tent, others want to go for hikes but also sleep in a bed and eat in a restaurant, he said.
"The good thing is there's a huge diversity of markets that serve nature-based tourism that Maine's well-positioned to deal with," he said.
In Vermont, this summer will bring a new addition to the nation's oldest long-distance hiking trail, the 270-mile Long Trail that runs the spine of the Green Mountains and includes numerous huts and backcountry campsites along the route. After decades of planning and fundraising, crews will break ground on a 200-foot suspension footbridge over the Winooski River.
The Green Mountain Club, which maintains the trail, has sought to establish a safe, appropriate and permanent route over the river since 1912, when it established the first stretch of the trail, said Dave Hardy, director of trail programs.
"It's a big deal," he said. "We've been looking to relocate the trail and build this bridge since the beginning."
With more than 200,000 people using the trail each year, hiking has become a major economic driver for the state, club officials said. The group also plans to repair the last stretch of the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail that were closed because of damage from the remnants from Hurricane Irene in 2011.
And for those who don't want to pick just one state, all three states plus New York and parts of Canada are connected by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, which links 740 miles of remote waterways.