A thirst for adventure can provide an edge in the business world and in the great outdoors. The entrepreneur and the explorer both enjoy the thrill of discovery as they pursue their dreams and paths into unknown territory.
As the former owner of an outdoor equipment company launched in the early 1970s — Mad River Canoe Co. — I’m fortunate to have had a foot in both worlds.
Every year, American consumers spend more on outdoor recreation ($887 billion) than they do on gasoline and fuels ($304 billion), motor vehicles and parts ($465 billion), and pharmaceuticals ( $466 billion). Those of us in the outdoor industry recognize that we owe a large portion of our success to public lands — national parks, monuments, forests and wildlife refuges. All Americans benefit from those lands, reaping clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and wildlife habitat, as well as beautiful places to recreate.
Public lands also spur spending and jobs that help to sustain gateway communities near our parks and other natural attractions. For evidence of this, we need not look any further than Maine’s coastal communities surrounding Acadia National Park and those in the Katahdin region now realizing economic benefits from the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
My business benefited from access to public lands and waters, although there are substantially fewer of these resources in the northeastern U.S. than the West. As an avid canoeist, I know how important it is to have access to public assets such as rivers or national parks. So important in fact that in 1998, after selling the canoe company, my husband and I created a nonprofit organization, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile water trail to ensure public access to water routes first used by Native Americans that stretches from the Adirondacks through New England to Maine. Through mostly private land, following navigable rivers, this trail passes through three national wildlife refuges.
For many Americans, wildlife refuges are among the nearest wild places to visit for hiking, hunting or paddling. Our state has 11 national wildlife refuges, from the Aroostook refuge in The County, to Moosehorn Down East, to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maine.
As a business person, I feel an obligation to speak up to defend these wild public places, which are owned by all Americans. Because wildlife refuges and other public lands have been targeted by anti-conservationists in Congress and by the Trump administration, it’s urgent to stand up and be counted.
In fact, the Trump administration hopes to begin oil drilling in perhaps the wildest, most pristine and treasured refuge in the United States — the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the northeastern corner of Alaska.
This is stunning. The coastal plain in the Arctic refuge is a wonderland for migratory birds, caribou and polar bears every summer during the nearly endless days of sunlight. Birds from all 50 states migrate to this region each year. In one of the largest mammal migrations on earth, the massive porcupine caribou herd crosses the Brooks Range to reach this coastal plain every summer for calving. And polar bears depend on it for denning and giving birth to cubs.
This is perhaps the very last place on earth that should be paved, pumped and polluted by oil drilling.
Beyond the beauty and the essential role of the Arctic refuge for so many wild creatures, drilling in this refuge makes no sense economically. Abundant oil is available in other parts of Alaska, and as a nation, we face both a surplus of fossil fuels and a burgeoning capacity to generate energy from renewable sources.
I’m fortunate to have hiked and paddled in the Arctic refuge in my travels. I’ve seen the caribou, musk oxen, polar bears and the vast wild expanse that is breathtaking and hard to describe with words alone.
As Americans, we are blessed to have had visionaries in previous generations who had the foresight to set aside as public land, forests, coastlines, rivers and grasslands for wildlife and humans to enjoy.
That’s why I will ask our U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to make sure no drilling ever takes place in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, our wildest example of America’s natural heritage. If we can’t protect the best, how can we protect the rest of our parks and public lands?
Kay Henry is co-founder and former CEO of Mad River Canoe Co., co-founder of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and a former national board member of the Outdoor Industry Association. She lives with her husband in Harpswell.