by David Farmer
Bangor Daily News column
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will celebrate its second birthday with a hootenanny this weekend.
And there is plenty to celebrate.
After two years of needless delay, highway signs pointing the way to the monument are finally going up and thousands of people are visiting.
About 8,000 people have visited so far this year, the Associated Press reports, on par with visitation during the summer last year.
On Saturday, supporters of Katahdin Woods and Waters will throw a party at Shin Pond Village to mark the 2016 creation of the monument by President Barack Obama.
The event is sold out, but party organizers Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters has created a waitlist for folks who are interested in going but haven’t gotten their tickets yet.
The event is sponsored by a powerhouse list of companies, including local business like the Bangor Daily News, national retailers and Maine Beer Co., which honored the creation of the monument two years ago with Woods and Waters IPA. Beer Advocate gives Woods and Waters an “exceptional” rating, four out of five stars. I’d score it even higher, but I’m a homer for New England IPAs, Maine Beer Co., Katahdin Woods and Waters and Maine-grown barley and wheat used to make it.
It’s fair to say that the creation of the monument was fraught. I worked for more than five years on the project and the opposition was real – though more limited than most people recognized at the time. It was vocal and organized, but ultimately the broader public recognized the opportunity that a monument would present.
The work to create the monument, which was led by Lucas St. Clair, focused on telling an optimistic story about the way a new national monument could be part of the revitalization of the Katahdin region.
Yankee Magazine described St. Clair’s effort this way in a January 2018 look back: “Over the past five years, St. Clair has poured his life into getting 87,500 acres of his family’s property in northern Maine, just east of Mount Katahdin, named a national monument. … There have been handshakes and hugs, insults and death threats.”
Through it all, St. Clair never faltered in his optimism and the earnest belief that if you take the time – and put in the effort – to really listen to people, you could change hearts and minds.
I’ve heard him say it a thousand times, and it’s true. “If you stand close enough to someone that they can poke you in the chest, then you’re close enough to really hear what they have to say.”
St. Clair was right. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is having a positive impact on the entire northern Penobscot region.
New businesses have opened. Tourism is growing. Real estate is selling. And people are investing in the region. The Millinocket Marathon is gaining a reputation is one of the best qualifying races for the Boston Marathon.
In fact, given all the great travel press the monument has received, it’s high time that the Maine Office of Tourism do its part to boost visitation. We have a jewel in the interior of Maine. We should tell everyone about it
There’s new energy in the region – some of it sparked by the monument and all of it driven by an absolute commitment from the people in the region to fight back against the forces that shuttered the area’s major employers and drove people away.
I won’t make the celebration this year – work commitments out of state and a memorial service for a dear friend will keep me away. But I’ve returned to Katahdin Woods and Waters many times before and after Obama’s proclamation.
As Obama wrote when creating the monument:
“Katahdin Woods and Waters contains a significant piece of this extraordinary natural and cultural landscape: the mountains, woods, and waters east of Baxter State Park (home of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), where the East Branch of the Penobscot River and its tributaries, including the Wassataquoik Stream and the Seboeis River, run freely. Since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago, these waterways and associated resources – the scenery, geology, flora and fauna, night skies, and more – have attracted people to this area. Native Americans still cherish these resources. Lumberjacks, river drivers, and timber owners have earned their livings here. Artists, authors, scientists, conservationists, recreationists, and others have drawn knowledge and inspiration from this landscape.”
While I haven’t seen every one of the 87,500 acres that are forever protected and owned by the people of this great country, I’ve seen enough to know that I’m in love. If you haven’t been, you should visit (the new signs will make that easier) and see for yourself what makes the monument, the region around it and the people of northern Maine so special.