Natural Wonders

Eloise Vitelli: Maine’s natural resources should be enjoyed and protected

Saturday, Sept. 25 was National Public Lands Day — a reminder that we should get out and enjoy all the wonders of the natural world, and do our part to protect it. Maine is home to 48 state parks and historic sites, as well as Acadia National Park and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. From our mountains and forests, to our rocky coastline, to our streams and lakes, there’s so much beauty to take in across our state. And autumn is a perfect time to enjoy it.

Maine’s natural resources and great outdoors are inextricably tied to our economy. Farmers rely on healthy soil and water to grow their crops and raise their livestock, which they then sell to us as well as out-of-state markets. Those who rely on our working waterfronts, including Maine’s iconic lobstering industry, rely on healthy oceans. And, of course, every year, millions of tourists come to our state to enjoy our beaches; hike up our mountains; hunt and fish; ski, snowboard or snowshoe. Most of all, they come to breathe the fresh, clean air and take in the peace that Maine’s land has to offer. To protect our natural resources is to invest in our economy and future, as well as our way of life.

To help support farmers, who are the stewards of so much of our land, the Legislature this year created the Healthy Soils Program. This measure was sponsored by my colleague Sen. Stacy Brenner of Scarborough, who is herself an organic farmer. As Sen. Brenner put it when she first introduced this bill, “Soil is foundational to farming.” Maine’s new Healthy Soils Program will help young and old farmers alike learn about and implement best practices for maintaining healthy, fertile soil. Additionally, the Legislature passed a law to phase out the sale of PFAS, so-called forever chemicals, by 2030. PFAS chemicals are found in a wide variety of products, from paints and waxes, to food packaging, to non-stick pans.

These chemicals build up in the environment over time, including in water sources, and can cause serious health problems. That’s why my colleagues and I in the Legislature also invested $30 million to help farmers and food producers clean up and mitigate PFAS already in our environment and on their land. All of this means that you and your family will be able to enjoy fresh, healthy food from local farms for years to come. Our farms are the cornerstone of so many communities. This fall, take the time to check out your farmers market, look out for locally grown food right in the supermarket, or take a crisp, clear day to go pick your own apples at one of Maine’s many orchards.

But Maine’s public lands — our parks and trails — also need protecting. Did you know that Maine has more miles of coastline than California? To help conserve our state’s natural beauty for future generations, we invested $40 million in Land for Maine’s Future, a program that is incredibly popular and has strong bipartisan support among legislators. As the COVID-19 pandemic drove more people outside to get fresh air and enjoy activities that didn’t involve being cooped up inside, Maine’s parks saw a spike in visitors. To help our state parks stay up-to-date with maintenance and upgrades, the Legislature directed $50 million to the state park program. That means visitors and locals alike will be able to get outside to hike, camp, canoe or even just enjoy a picnic with friends on conserved, protected lands.

If you’re looking to plan your next outing, you can check out www.maineapples.org to find an orchard near you, or the Maine foliage report at www.MaineFoliage.com to see when the views from the mountaintop will be the most vibrant. And of course, always be sure to stay on marked trails and follow posted rules, to keep yourself safe and protect the land for future visitors.

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23, covering Sagadahoc County and Dresden.


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