by Kate Rush, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Conservation and the economy go hand in hand, especially in Maine. This connection is well-established and easy to see in America’s National Park System, which celebrates its 10oth anniversary in 2016.
All around the United States, from the Everglades in Florida to Denali in Alaska, from Joshua Tree in California to Acadia in Maine, national parks successfully protect beautiful landscapes and provide economic, recreation and cultural benefits for the people and communities that surround them.
Lands managed by our National Park Service, including national parks, national recreation areas and national monuments, create economic vitality that helps sustain and grow neighboring communities. People who live near national parks typically see higher than average employment, personal income and population growth. Their communities tend to suffer less and recover faster from recessions and other economic downturns than do similar areas without these nationally designated areas.
A generous donor has proposed to donate nearly 90,000 acres to create a new national park and recreation area in the Katahdin region east of Baxter State Park, along with a generous endowment to support it. The East Branch of the Penobscot River and two other rivers flow through this land, and the area includes vast stretches of forests and abundant wildlife. Designating this land as a national monument this year could be the first step toward it becoming a new national park and national recreation area. This new featured destination can provide business development and growth throughout the region.
America’s national parks attract visitors from across the country and around the globe. Millions of people travel to areas solely because of national parks. Those visitors consistently spend money in surrounding communities. For example, Acadia National Park draws over 2 million visitors annually who bring more than $200 million to Maine’s economy.
The same is true across the country. In Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the adjacent Curecanti National Recreation Area together attract over 1 million people to visit, and they spend nearly $50 million in the region annually. These areas are similar in distance from local population centers as is the area proposed for a new national park east of Baxter.
A new national park and recreation area in northern Maine also would provide long-term, statewide benefits. When people come to Maine and choose to explore the heart of our remote, quiet forests, some will decide to stay. More people will retire there. More young people will decide to raise their children in a safe, rural community. Software and telecommunications entrepreneurs will decide to set up their businesses in northern Maine for the attractive quality of life in these areas. New businesses will develop to support the new residents, such as restaurants, inns, markets, car mechanics and professional services. These economic gains will be felt in the rural areas of the Katahdin region but also in Portland, Augusta and Bangor, where many people will visit as they travel within the state.
The National Park Service oversees 84 million acres across the country. Although this represents just 3 percent of the nation, it encompasses some of our most important places, which hold value for us collectively because of their indescribable beauty and cultural importance.
History shows the process of creating new national parks often has stirred up controversy, including strong voices in support and in opposition. History also shows that communities near national parks see those destinations as absolutely vital for the health of their economy, communities and residents.
Maine must look to the future and embrace this incredible opportunity to create a national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region. This proposal will conserve the land, rivers, history and culture of Maine’s North Woods while helping to revitalize communities that have been devastated by the exodus of the paper industry. It will bring economic opportunities to other parts of Maine as well, both urban and rural.
In order to take advantage of this great gift, we need leadership from our members of Congress. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins should heed the opinions of the vast majority of their constituents from around the state, including those in northern Maine, and work with the president to establish a national monument as a first step toward a national park and national recreation area on these lands east of Baxter. The 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this year is the ideal time to make it happen. It will help revitalize the region and generate positive, economic effects throughout the state.
Kate Rush is vice president and director of technology at Bangor Savings Bank. She is board president of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.