EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — People looking to work in tourism-based jobs in the Katahdin region could get a major boost from a new community college program that may be available next spring, officials said Tuesday.
The Quimby Family Foundation, one of the backers of a proposed national park, gave a $50,000 grant to Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor to help develop the two-year program at the Katahdin Region Higher Education Center off Route 11 in East Millinocket. Graduates would receive an associate degree in applied science degrees in outdoor recreation and tourism.
“We are very excited about the prospect of inaugurating this academic program in the Katahdin region,” said Lawrence Barrett, president of Eastern Maine Community College, which is partnering with Katahdin Region Higher Education Center officials.
“The program’s development is a response to the needs the college is hearing from business and community leaders,” Barrett said. “The goal is to capitalize on the region’s vast natural resources and provide a motivated workforce to vitalize the recreation, tourism and small business sectors of the Katahdin region’s economy.”
The initiative comes at an opportune time for the region. Besides the national park initiative, which proponents hope to bring to fruition as soon as 2016, the area has suffered from the closure of its remaining paper mill in February. It typically has a double-digit unemployment rate that is twice the state average.
The program would become operational in spring 2015 if the Maine Community College board of trustees approves it, according to EMCC spokeswoman Katrina A. Mumford. The new degree program would allow up to 24 students to live, study and work in the Millinocket region over the course of two years.
Graduates would be prepared for a variety of career options, including employment with state, county and municipal parks; guiding and outfitting companies; tour operators; recreation facilities; meeting and convention development firms; and tourism development agencies.
Graduates also would earn their registered Maine guide license with up to six specialized classifications, as well as certifications in first aid, Leave No Trace and chainsaw operation.
Maine recreation expert Steve Spencer has helped develop the curriculum. The effort has letters of support from Baxter State Park, New England Outdoor Center, Katahdin Woods and Waters, AMC Maine Wilderness Lodges and the Chewonki Foundation.
East Millinocket Selectman Clint Linscott, who owns several properties and operates an auto body shop in East Millinocket, said the effort could help bolster the region’s sagging economy by infusing younger, educated and upwardly mobile people.
“I think it is awesome that there is more support for KRHC that adds more diversity to what they have to offer,” Linscott said Tuesday. “The more programs they can have, the stronger they will be.”
The program would offer 60 college credits in 10 to 12 courses taught by one full-time faculty member at the East Millinocket campus supplemented by four or five expert part-timers or adjunct faculty, Barrett said.
He hopes to have the program reach 24 students within a year or two, if not immediately, he said.
The board of trustees’ policies subcommittee will review the proposed program in September and will make a recommendation for the full board to act on in November, Barrett said.
According to its website, the Quimby Family Foundation was formed in 2004 by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of natural cosmetics firm Burt’s Bees and a major Maine landowner who has advocated for a national park in the Katahdin region.