Sea kayaking is one of the many guided activities Mainers can enjoy this summer with registered Maine guides who follow strict safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Credit: Courtesy of Brian Threlkeld

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This summer is a time for Maine residents to explore their own state, embrace the outdoors and support local businesses. That’s the message of Adventure Local Maine, a collaborative campaign recently launched by Maine Outdoor Brands, which is a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports the state’s outdoor recreation economy.

The new website, adventurelocalmaine.com, offers listings of local guides, public lands and camping options, as well as discounts on guided trips, rentals and outdoor gear, featuring local businesses that have committed to COVID-19 prevention checklists. The website also provides updated tips and resources for safely exploring the Maine outdoors.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

“Like many businesses right now, the outdoor recreation businesses are certainly impacted by the coronavirus from reduced sales, closed doors and canceled reservations,” said Jenny Kordick, executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands. “But at the same time, we’ve also seen an increase in people wanting to get outdoors. The outdoors is having a special moment right now, and we see an opportunity there.”

Throughout June, Adventure Local Maine will give away outdoor gear and experience packages from participating outdoor brands. All you have to do is sign up for their email newsletter through the website.

“I will stress that all of these businesses are adapting and following all of the public health guidelines and the prevention checklist that the state is requiring,” Kordick said. “That’s something that’s really important here; these brands are in the business of keeping people safe outdoors. Following the appropriate precautions is just an extension of that.”

Maine Outdoor Brands was formed in 2017 to unite Maine entrepreneurs in promoting Maine’s outdoor recreation economy and strengthening the state’s outdoor brands. The nonprofit organization today has more than 100 members, from big companies such as L.L.Bean to local guides. And they continue to accept members that meet their organization’s guidelines.

“We define our membership as brands that are based in Maine that are helping facilitate an outdoor experience in some way,” Kordick said. “That includes local retail stores, guides and outfitters and product manufacturers.”

Outdoor recreation is a $3 billion industry in Maine, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, making up 4.8 percent of the state’s economy, which is double the national average and the third highest of any state.

With visitors to Maine currently required to complete a 14-day quarantine, the industry is expected to take a huge hit this summer, a time when many outdoor recreation businesses rely on the business of tourists. In response, many businesses are pivoting to cater to Maine residents.

“Maine people are the only people we’re advertising to at the moment,” said Russell Walters, president of Northern Outdoors, a four-season outdoor adventure resort in The Forks that specializes in guided whitewater rafting trips on the Kennebec River. “We’re looking at every opportunity to get the word out.”

As a member of Maine Outdoor Brands, Northern Outdoors is participating in the Adventure Maine Local campaign. The resort and guiding company currently has a three-stage opening plan, starting with opening lodging at the beginning of June. The outfit then plans to open its restaurant and bar with outside seating. And lastly, Walters hopes they will be able to start guiding rafting trips, though COVID-19-related safety guidelines for the activity have yet to be approved by the state.

“It’s important to our staff that we know how we’re operating within the new rules and regulations because there are so many changes all at once,” Walters said. “But we face operating hurdles every single day. We’re going to run with these punches and operate under these guidelines.”

While numbers are down, Northern Outdoors has been receiving reservations from Maine residents, some of which will be first-time customers.

“People have been cooped up a long time,” Walters said. “Those I’ve listened to are really eager to get out, and if getting out means doing a whitewater trip and wearing a face mask, that’s what they’re doing to do.”

Back40, a Maine-based company that rents camping gear and delivers it to drop-off locations throughout southern Maine, is also enthusiastic about the campaign. To attract Maine customers this year, it’s launching a membership rental program that gives members access to gear year round. In addition, the company is offering a discount to Maine residents.

“We’re all adapting to the new realities of the COVID era and, lucky for us, here in Maine we have plenty of room for social distancing,” said Henry Gilbert, founder of Back40. “We want to remind people of that while helping drive business to the folks losing tourism dollars. This is an opportunity for Mainers to explore the state like never before.”

Watch: Who can make reservations at Maine hotels next month?

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.