University of Maine and a Climate To Thrive Present Key Take Aways From Collaboration
SOUTHWEST HARBOR—According to researchers from the University of Maine, the climate is changing and that means that people need to adapt to that change and that visitation patterns to Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island will likely change too.
At a talk at the Southwest Harbor Library Tuesday night, Lydia Horne of the University of Maine said that MDI businesses can take advantage of emerging opportunities and reduce the negative impacts of climate change while simultaneously take opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Horne is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine.
“MDI tourism professionals are very aware of climate change impacts to their businesses and the resources they manage. A participatory approach allows researchers to center that expertise and experience to help develop locally relevant solutions that consider existing resources, including existing partnerships and ongoing adaptation and mitigation projects,” Horne said.
Visitor behavior is going to change on MDI as a result of those environmental changes we’re seeing, she said. Nature-based tourism destinations, she said, are vulnerable to climate change.
More visitors are coming during the shoulder season in spring and fall, she said, citing climate change as a reason for that. However, there has been outreach for years by local businesses to extend the season. Higher rates of cruise ship visitation in September and October to see foliage has also been cited as a reason for the island’s extended season. Extended seasons could be a challenge for staffing, she said. If summers get hotter, it could also influence whether or not people come to MDI to visit, she said. More precipitation in the summer and fall might impact people’s outdoor activities.
A global 2018 report by Future IQ, a research and consulting company, writes about Maine woods tourism,
“Tourism offers the opportunity for highly impactful new local economic development. It offers the opportunity for small and large-scale businesses and investments, and has a good connection to local land use, culture and tradition. The scenario analysis, and the Future of Tourism work suggest there are some compelling macro trends providing strong tailwinds to the industry at a global and national level. There is also a vast array of natural resources in the region, upon which to build new visitor experiences. However, there are challenges with critical visitor economy infrastructure, especially supporting the high touch / high service end of the continuum.
“Importantly, a tourism and outdoor recreation economy can also help create the business and employment base that will attract new residents to the region. This is a critical underlying strategy to sustain and build the region. This approach has been well articulated in some of the local regional destination work currently underway in Maine Woods, including locations such as Moosehead Lake. In this way, the tourism economy offers great promise for the region, and can help attract younger visitors, entrepreneurs and potential residents.”
Co-presenter Alyssa Soucy explained that a group of twenty people co-created virtual workshops to discuss climate change on MDI. She added that no one from the group was originally from MDI. Horne was the only one originally from Maine. They’ve noticed an uptick of winter visitors and had concerns about planning for winter access in the park when the Park Loop Road is shut down in the winter and also about visitor safety.
The first day of the workshop discussed the most significant climate change impacts and opportunities for tourism and easiest climate change impacts.
“While we’re seeing increased visitation now, climate change may” end up decreasing visitation, Alyssa said.
Johannah Blackman of the local nonprofit, A Climate To Thrive, also participated in the workshop series with the research team from University of Maine. She said that MDI’s actions can be a model statewide and throughout the world.
Tourists, she said, want “to experience a different place, be educated, relax, and escape.” Businesses can look to those wants as they address climate changes and sustainability.
“The towns are becoming really involved in this type of work,” Blackman said. That work includes resiliency and climate change and sustainability and compiling greenhouse emissions inventories in the community. Bar Harbor hired Laura Berry this fall as its sustainability coordinator. Other towns have committees and efforts.
“A lot has been happening on MDI and we really have become a state leader,” Blackman said, and she added there is opportunity to bridge the gap between what’s happening on the island year round and addressing the visitor’s needs. “There’s an incredible opportunity for integration.”
She thinks visitors are going to be interested in being a part of the solution and preparation for climate change.
She said that potential next steps include:
Municipal climate action plans that address the impacts of and to tourism;
Regular meetings of the tourism industry focused on local climate solutions and eventual action plans integrated with municipal and park plans;
Shifting visitor narrative and cultivating educational opportunities focused on and inspiring the spread of local climate action.
According to the nonprofit’s website,
“A Climate to Thrive works towards energy independence for Mount Desert Island by 2030 through decentralized, local, renewable energy solutions including efficiency, electrification, and renewable energy generation. We seek solutions that build community ownership and equity and bring the community together around shared goals and priorities. We prioritize collaboration within and beyond the MDI community and actively work to build a network of community-driven, solutions-focused climate action throughout the state of Maine.”
It will hold a building solutions fair at MDI High School on January 14 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
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