In the heart of western Maine’s lakes and mountains region, Maine Huts & Trails operates as one of the premier sustainable ecotourism and adventure tourism destinations in New England. My internship initially sought to understand the global and national trends in ecotourism and how MH&T positioned itself as an industry leader. As my experience and research progressed however, I found my focus shifting to a single, but extremely important aspect of the nonprofits work; its economic impact on the local, rural economy.
I first heard about Colby and MH&T’s partnership and internship opportunity at the environmental studies job fair held in the spring and was surprised to see several economic-based internship projects. I had heard of MH&T beforehand but had never had the chance to hike the trails or visit one of its eco-lodges, so I thought this would be a perfect experience to both pursue my academic interests and enjoy the outdoors.
Within the first two weeks of the internship I spent several nights at the huts and on the trails participating in trail work and hut staff training, which exposed me to the extensive work that goes into making their mission a reality. As I became more familiar with the organization, I began my research into sustainable ecotourism and its many facets, one of which is the importance of supporting the local community and economy. With a goal to support a vibrant, thriving economy in Franklin County and further reaches of Maine, MH&T makes an effort to purchase as many products and services from local sources as possible. This local spending supports local business and jobs and adds to the overall welfare of the region. My research focuses on accurately quantifying this value so that MH&T, its visitors, and its donors can see the significant beneficial impact the organization is having on Maine’s rural communities. Because it is a nonprofit, MH&T relies heavily on donors from around the state to support its annual operation and future expansion. This study will provide MH&T with a powerful “selling point” to potential donors as they will see how their investment in MH&T is also an investment in the wellbeing of western Maine’s economy and communities. As the summer is coming to a close, I am still in the midst of this analysis and will have the chance to continue my work during the fall semester.
This experience has been unique in that it allowed me to apply concepts I have learned at Colby, acquire new modeling and analysis skills, and also enjoy the Maine outdoors simultaneously. My work conducting an impact analysis has been a valuable experience that will help me as I pursue future jobs and a career. What makes the experience more satisfying is that I will be leaving knowing that my work has helped this great company and will set the stage for future internships and research. As one of the first summer internships offered through this academic partnership, I believe that there is great potential for both Colby and MH&T to take advantage of each other’s resources and most importantly, offer Colby students the chance to work outside of the classroom with a Maine based company that does so much to support the local economies and environment. I will carry this experience and everyone who I met along the way in high regards as I leave Colby and hope to come back to an even more successful Maine Huts and Trails and prosperous western Maine economy in the coming years.
Colton Leach ’19