By John Krinjak, WABI staff
Business owners gathered in Bangor today to announce their support for a proposed national park in the Katahdin Region.
“A new national park and new national recreation area in Maine will help create jobs and provide positive benefits to the Maine economy,” said Mike Polstein, owner of New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket.
More than 200 Bangor and Katahdin area businesses are calling on Maine’s leaders in Washington to draft legislation to move the park proposal forward.
“The time has come for a congressional delegation to make this opportunity a reality,” said Polstein.
The Bangor City Council endorsed the plan on Monday.
It comes as many Eastern and Northern Maine towns struggle to find an economic base.
“From Millinocket to Lincoln, Brewer to Bucksport, the trends are clear and they are not good. The loss of high paying jobs is staggering, but the social costs are amplified by the region’s lack of economic diversification,” said Rob Lilieholm, a forest economist at the University of Maine.
Business owners from Millinocket to Bangor say the ripple effect of a park would be felt statewide.
“I think this national park would be good for business. Would be good for my customers. Would be good for my business,” said Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports in Bangor.
“I can confidently tell you that my business could triple,” said Polstein.
Many feel the national park branding would expand Maine’s draw to out of-state-tourists.
“Most people–if they think of Maine–it’s lighthouses and lobster, and having a national park in the north woods would do a lot to kind of pull that interest farther inland,” said Chris Dalton, owner of Syncopation Software in Bangor.
“That mountain, these lands will draw people. It’s sort of like the baseball field in the field of dreams. If you build it they will come,” said Joe Pratt, owner of Sherman Wood Works in Sherman.
Opponents of the project say a national park could interfere with local forest products industry and reduce the the likelihood of other industries moving to the area, but business leaders here say it’s time to break from the past and move toward new economic opportunity.
“No single act will turn our region around overnight, but bit by bit and piece by piece, we can visualize and build a better future,” said Lilieholm.