The Hemlock Covered Bridge in Fryeburg, Maine. (COURTESY PHOTO)

FRYEBURG, Maine — Fryeburg is one of only 10 towns in the country selected to participate in a new Main Street revitalization program focused on outdoor recreation.

The Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission announced last week it will work closely with the town and consultants from the Environmental Protection Agency to create a plan to improve outdoor recreation opportunities in Fryeburg.

The new initiative aims to revitalize Main Streets in rural communities through outdoor recreation.

The other communities selected for assistance include: Cambridge, N.Y.; Giles County, Va; Glenwood Springs, Colo.; Gorham, N.H.; Grants, N.M.; Jasper, Ala.; John Day, Or.; Poultney, Vt.; and Thompson Falls, Mont.

Several of the selected communities are in or adjacent to Opportunity Zones, economically distressed areas that can be designated for preferential tax treatment.

A planning team appointed by the EPA will help the 10 selected rural communities create an action plan to grow the local outdoor recreation economy in ways that promote sustainable resource management and environmentally friendly community development.

The recommendations could include building new trail connections, boosting downtown amenities, connecting nearby hiking-biking trails to downtown, and working to attract recreation-related economic opportunities.

According to SMPDC Executive Director Paul Schumacher, "Creating a plan that encourages outdoor recreation, uses vacant spaces and creates a more walkable, thriving Main Street is an important step in revitalizing Fryeburg.

"This recognition and upcoming planning process is an exciting opportunity for the town and we are happy to offer our expertise as Fryeburg is one of 39 member towns in Maine who are part of the SMPDC.”

“We couldn’t be happier to have worked with SMPDC and be selected by the federal government for participation in this program,” said Katie Haley, Fryeburg Town Manager. “Our town is highly motivated to capitalize on bringing people to Fryeburg for recreation and boosting businesses in our lovely town.”

Erin Mayo, head of school at Fryeburg Academy, said the Outdoor Learning and Research Center, which has 63 acres adjoining the campus, provides experiential learning opportunities and adventure-based programs.

"We've contemplated numerous possible directions for wider community use — some of these include implementing a fitness trail, making garden plots available and providing low-ropes course training for area groups/teams," said Mayo.

"It'll be very interesting to see how the larger initiative might guide the academy's decisions on our next steps here on campus."

The Fryeburg Business Association also hailed the news.

"We’ve watched as communities around us have grown, developed and taken advantage of the opportunities presented to them, while Fryeburg has let so many slip past for one reason or another," an email sent by Donna Woodward on behalf of the business association said.

"Change and growth are necessary to keep pace with the growing economic needs and expenses of small communities such as ours. Of course we should be selective, cautious and well-informed, but it’s time to look to the positive impacts that change can bring to us," she said.

"Building on our amazing recreational assets is a great place to start. Fryeburg has a lot to offer to residents and visitors alike, and an abundance of healthy recreational opportunities for all  seasons is a major asset. Development and promotion of this asset could bring opportunities  for new businesses while supporting the ones that struggle daily to keep their heads above water now."

The planning process will take place over four to six months, with a two-day facilitated community workshop as the focal point.

Participants will work together to identify a vision, goals and specific actions to realize the locally set goals.

Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission was founded in 1964, SMPDC provides technical expertise to 39 municipalities in York, southern Oxford and Cumberland counties. SMPDC offers a coordinated effort for economic development and resource management, including environmental remediation, land use and transportation planning.

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