By Richard Schmidt III, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Two years is a tender age for a national monument. But Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has already delivered tangible benefits and real promise for our region and the state.
Only recently, the governor finally has allowed highway signs to point the way to this National Park Service unit, which will be installed by the year’s end. At age 2, the monument is already a known tourist destination. USA Today recently described Katahdin Woods and Waters as one of the top 10 places in the United States to “beat the heat.”
At first, I had questions about the establishment of a national monument in our backyard. Many legitimate questions were raised and addressed by proponents and National Park Service officials.
While the run up to the designation as a national monument had a few bumps, most of us have agreed for some time now that preserving these 87,500 acres as a monument is a good thing. It will help to foster tourism, sustainable jobs and access to the woods and outdoor traditions that we love.
In fact, Katahdin Woods and Waters represents a remarkable investment and good fortune for Maine, with the donation of private land and funds plus the resources that the National Park Service brings to this monument. This is exactly the shot in the arm that we needed to help strengthen and diversify our economy.
The signs are promising — businesses expanding their existing infrastructure, growing interest in starting news businesses now that there is greater revenue potential. And the real estate market has seen a clear boost.
Down East magazine reported that 30,000 visitors from 45 states have traveled to Katahdin Woods and Waters over the past two years. Cross-country ski trails are in the works. Equipment rentals are booming. The restaurants and the hospitality sector in general are expanding.
For its part, the National Park Service is putting its best foot forward, meeting with the community and developing programs. For instance, the park service plans an ecology program for Katahdin High School students, wheelchair-accessible trails and programs that explore and interpret our local history.
Large signs for Interstate 95 will be installed next spring along with signs later this year for local roads. But during the meetings and deliberations leading up to the monument designation in 2016, it had already become clear to most Mainers that Katahdin Woods and Waters represents a promising path to a better future for our residents, businesses and economy.
We saw the signs early on: This kind of investment is rare, and we should seize the opportunity.
I’m invested in this community and its future. I see nothing but positive momentum surrounding this new monument, momentum that gives me hope that more and more of the children of our community will at least have the choice of staying here, finding good jobs and making this their permanent home.
Richard Schmidt III is a lifelong resident of the Katahdin region. He lives in Patten with his wife and two children.