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.