Community Transformation Initiatives

In the spring of 2016 residents of Skowhegan came together to share ideas for the future of our town. As a result of these discussions, the Skowhegan Strategic Plan for Community Transformation was drafted, and voters adopted the plan at the June 2016 town meeting.

The ultimate goal of the strategic plan is for Skowhegan to become a thriving economic, cultural, and recreational destination where residents are active, healthy, and they enjoy a high quality of life. In order to achieve this goal, several objectives and strategies were developed, including a strategy specifically devoted to enhancing outdoor recreation opportunities and promoting natural resources. In 2017, the importance of recreation to our region was reemphasized by residents during the Somerset County Rural Cultural Plan process.

The Town of Skowhegan, Main Street Skowhegan, and several other groups in town, are focused on outdoor recreation as a tool for community development. To that end, two projects are underway to help Skowhegan achieve community transformation through outdoor recreation: the Skowhegan AmeriCorps Outdoor Recreation Program, an initiative that will provide outdoor recreation activities, programming, and trainings free-of-charge to our community members,  and the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area, a recreation facility in downtown Skowhegan that will include a whitewater park for paddling, surfing, tubing, bodyboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, and more, as well as 300 acres of trails for use year-round.

Skowhegan AmeriCorps Outdoor Recreation Program

Building a whitewater park and acres of trails in downtown Skowhegan is not enough to transform our community—we need to provide opportunities for our residents to get outside, get active, and engage with nature.

Main Street Skowhegan, in partnership with the Outdoor Sport Institute and other community stakeholders, developed the five-year Skowhegan AmeriCorps Outdoor Recreation Program for catalyzing a cultural shift toward a more active lifestyle in Skowhegan—specifically for the benefit of our residents.

The program provides a roadmap for promoting our current outdoor recreation facilities, encouraging walking and low-impact activities, providing skill-building and regular outdoor recreation programming, ensuring access to these activities, energizing volunteers to build capacity, and enhancing current trails and creating new ones.

By offering activities for outdoor recreation and engagement with nature, we will improve health outcomes, enhance quality of life, and cultivate an active lifestyle culture in Skowhegan and the region. We will also build a base of local users for the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area.

Under the guidance of Main Street Skowhegan, three full-time AmeriCorps members—Outdoor Recreation Coaches—will spearhead program implementation over the next three years (May 2019 to April 2022), assessing outcomes, tweaking strategies and action steps as needed to achieve our goal, and building a base of volunteers to sustain programming for years to come.

Click here to download a copy of the program.

Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area

Nowhere in New England can you spend an afternoon paddling on three quality whitewater features and then pull out on shore, change out of your wetsuit downtown, and walk to the nearby pub for a bite to eat and a local craft brew.

Run of River will provide this experience and more.

Free and open to all, Run of River will offer opportunities to stroll along the river and through Coburn Park; explore four-season trails on 300 acres in the heart of town; fish in restored, pristine waters; and experience nature via other options that will inevitably spring up—a zip-line ride down the gorge, a narrated raft trip, or paddleboard yoga.

For this vision to become a reality, the following elements will be necessary:

Benefits

With a focus on inclusivity, physical activity, wellness, community development, and economic development and diversification, the dual approach to Skowhegan community transformation through outdoor recreation will bolster human connections and combat rising poverty, unemployment, and obesity rates in one of the poorest and least healthy counties in the state.

Need

Skowhegan is the seat of Somerset County, a beautiful, rural region that brims with potential but struggles with poverty and poor-health rates above state and national averages. Using our natural assets—including the Kennebec River, Lake George Regional Park, Eaton Mountain, and vast acreage of woods, fields, and trails—to turn this crisis on its head will be the game changer for Skowhegan’s future.

By the Numbers

In a recent Community Health Needs Assessment, Somerset ranked 15th out of 16 counties in health outcomes and dead last for quality of life.

Obesity rates have been rising among all age groups in Somerset County. As of 2016, more than a third (36.5%) of adults, nearly a fifth (18%) of high school students, and almost a quarter (22.7%) of middle schoolers are obese.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of Somerset County adults lead a sedentary lifestyle, with no leisure-time physical activity in the past month.

According to the most recent data, nearly a fifth of the county population is in poverty—including one quarter of all Somerset County children.

In 2016 local paper mill Sappi—which represents 40 percent of Skowhegan’s tax base—was devalued by $64 million, resulting in a loss of $1.2 million in tax revenue. The recent closures of Madison Paper and other mills around the state underscore how critical it is that we diversify the local economy.

Outdoor Recreation as a Solution

Free outdoor recreation and trainings will improve health and wellness in Skowhegan.

For some, this will be their first time on a trail or the river. For many, cost is a barrier, and free programming will give them a chance to experience nature and recreation in ways they couldn’t otherwise—exploring the snow-filled woods on skis or snowshoes, enjoying the serenity of canoeing, veering along switchbacks on a mountain bike.

With a fifth of the Somerset County population aged 65+, older people are a significant population. Low-impact activities such as walking and birdwatching will ensure accessibility for the older population and help ease social isolation.

The Skowhegan AmeriCorps Outdoor Recreation Program will open outdoor recreation to residents who have never or rarely participated before. It will provide a level playing field for the socioeconomically disadvantaged, giving them the same access and opportunities as those with more privileged backgrounds.

Run of River will boost the economy, foster business diversification, and offer new and enhanced venues for outdoor recreation.

The outdoor recreation industry is booming nationwide, and whitewater paddling is a growing sport. In Maine, outdoor recreation generates $8.2 billion in consumer spending annually, and spending on recreational watersports is $1.3 billion.

While there are dozens of wildly successful whitewater venues around the country, Run of River can be the first of its kind in New England. It has the potential to make Skowhegan the go-to destination for regional whitewater recreation and events—and a compelling venue for major national events as well.

Additionally, more than half of American travelers are considered adventure travelers, adding to the number of potential visitors to Run of River—and the ensuing economic impact that will benefit all in our community.