The United Nations has designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, promoting travel that respects the environment and local communities. Why is it important? Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, and one of its largest. It’s estimated that there will be 1.8 billion international tourists by 2030, contributing to more than five percent of global emissions.
“Sustainable tourism is redefining the global travel and tourism industry, from the way companies operate to where people choose to go and how they spend their hard-earned vacation dollars,’’ says Costas Christ, Global Strategist, Sustainability at Virtuoso. “The idea behind green travel has always been about reducing our environmental footprint — the reduce, reuse, recycle aspects of going on holiday. But sustainable tourism takes it to the next level by also embracing saving nature, protecting cultural heritage and alleviating poverty. It is really about a story of hope, the promise and the power of travel to change the world in positive ways. After all, what can be better than having a wonderful vacation that also gives back to benefiting local people’s lives and safeguarding the planet for future generations?’’
Why not vow to become a more self-aware and responsible traveler? A good start: Skip the fuel-guzzling and carbon dioxide-spewing plane trip (airlines currently account for more than four percent of global emissions) and vacation in New England.
Here are a few ways to travel green in New England.
Let the wind take you away
Leave the traffic, the crowds, the road, and technology behind, as you board one of Maine’s magnificent, tall-masted schooners. You’ll say goodbye to hard-edged schedules and fast-paced stress on a multiday windjammer cruise, as you sail the renowned cruising grounds of Penobscot Bay, propelled by wind and tide. Each unscripted day and trip is different, governed by weather conditions. You’ll sail gentle breezes through rhythmic waves, visit remote islands and small scenic fishing villages, and feast on well-prepared, local dishes, including a traditional lobster bake. The Maine Windjammer Association represents nine vessels, each accommodating 16 to 40 people, with rates starting around $200 a day (www.sailmainecoast .com). Each vessel in the association fleet is unique and individually owned and operated. The Schooner Heritage for example, is the newest in the fleet, designed and built for public cruising, while the Stephen Taber is the oldest sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States, and a National Historic Landmark, with no inboard motor (which means no smelly, noisy engine to contend with). Schooner J. & E. Riggin, which is not part of the association fleet, (www.maine windjammer.com) was the first Maine windjammer to be awarded the Maine DEP Environmental leadership award in hospitality and the first of the Maine windjammers to be entirely carbon free. They have strong Leave No Trace Behind policies, and use saltwater toilets, rechargeable battery-run lights, environmentally-friendly products, and ingredients from their own gardens and more than 30 local vendors.
Put your legs to work
Do your body and the environment good, and support a worthy organization, by booking an outdoor getaway with the Appalachian Mountain Club, a strong conservation advocate when it comes to protecting our mountains and forests. Head into the backcountry on a self-guided hut-to-hut hiking adventure, or join one of their guided lodge-to-hut hikes. Or, base yourself at the eco-friendly AMC Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch (www.outdoors.org). Rooms come in a variety of configurations, including private rooms with private baths, family rooms and shared bunkrooms. Join free daily activities like naturalist-guided hikes, skill workshops, and evening talks and walks, and borrow free gear and clothing from the L.L. Bean Gear Room. The building itself has won awards for its sustainable design and energy efficiencies, including water conservation techniques, recycled building materials and a heating system that uses locally harvested wood, scraps, and pallets. The AMC Echo Lake Camp, just outside of Acadia National Park (www.amcecho lakecamp.org) offers all-inclusive, weeklong, outdoor family programs.
The nonprofit Maine Huts & Trails, also a strong advocate for land preservation (www.mainehuts.org), operates a series of four off-grid lodges, connected by an 80-mile trail system, with meals, hot showers, solar lighting and composting toilets. Book one night, or hike hut-to-hut; guided tours are also offered.
Go with paddle power
Explore the dense northern Maine woods on a camping canoe trip down the legendary Allagash River, returning to the traditional mode of transportation once used by the native Wabanaki People. Mahoosuc Guide Service (www.mahoo suc.com) offers guided earth-friendly paddles down the 98-mile wilderness waterway that stretches from the northwest corner of Baxter State Park to the frontier village of Allagash, just 10 miles from the Canadian border. Owners and guides Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater have a strong reverence for the natural world, and employ old-style canoeing and camping techniques. Much of the equipment and gear used on their trips, like the cedar canvas canoes and maple paddles, are handmade. Days will pass in a slow, rhythmic pace as you learn to paddle the shallow waters, framed by mountains and the tall, wooded slopes of northern Maine.
They also offer canoe trips on the Penobscot, St. John, and Moose Rivers, and shorter one- to three-day paddles into the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, along with recently introduced cultural immersion canoe trips with Penobscot First Nation.
Get down to earth
What better way to support and reconnect with Mother Nature (and show your kids where food really comes from) than a stay at a small working farm? Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, New Hampshire (www.innat valleyfarms.com) welcomes guests to its 105-acre organic farm, home to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and goats, and fruit and vegetable gardens. The award-winning farm, with a consistent five-star rating on TripAdvisor, has simple rooms in its restored 1774 Colonial farmhouse inn; two guest cottages with full kitchens, sleeping up to six guests, and the stand-alone Sunnyside Farmhouse, with a full kitchen and accommodations for up to eight people. Guests rave about the friendly hospitality, the laid-back, back-to-nature vibe, the farm-fresh breakfasts (available to inn guests) and the owners’ commitment to environmentally friendly practices. Check out the interpretative center explaining the sustainable practices used on the farm, and then take part! You’re invited (though not required) to help with farm chores. Or, sit back and relax, visit area farms and wineries, and hike the trails that meander through the farm.
The Inn by the Sea, a beautiful beach resort in southern Maine (www.innbythesea.com), featuring a mile of oceanfront and a year-round program of activities and events, is arguably the greenest hotel in New England. The resort, which opened 12 new suites this summer, has received the Sustainable Industry award and a LEED Silver certification for its environmental and community programs. Design features include solar panels, recycled sheet rock walls, recycled cork and rubber floors, air to air heat exchangers, car charging stations, and more, and the property uses ultra-eco-friendly practices throughout its accommodations and restaurant.
The indigenous landscaping creates habitat for local wildlife, and has earned the resort a Wildlife Habitat certification from the National Wildlife Federation. Nectar gardens and milkweed are specifically planted for endangered butterflies; guests are invited to classes on “How to Plant for Wildlife’’ and children enjoy “Bug’s Life Garden Tours.’’ They’ve also created a “rabbitat,’’ a habitation restoration project with the Department of Conservation, clearing exotic invasive plants and replanting a habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail.
Th resort takes good care of the local canines, too. In cooperation with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, the resort fosters shelter dogs on site. Guests play with them and fall in love; they’ve already had 92 dogs adopted from the Inn!