By Cody McEwen, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a focal point in the lives of business owners and residents of the Katahdin region. Now the U.S. Department of the Interior is conducting a review to determine if there was sufficient public input before its designation.
What we all once thought was settled — after countless hours of research, discussion and debate at public forums — has been re-kindled to stall economic development in a region that desperately needs it.
Many are familiar with Great Northern Paper Co., which was a major manufacturer of paper products and employed hundreds of employees during its existence. The forest products industry boosted the Maine economy and helped support our state for many years. But that time is past.
Coupled with the forest products industry was the tourism industry. Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt and William Sewall frequented the lands around Katahdin, and they were influenced by those experiences. The many rivers, lakes, mountains and forests provided vast recreational opportunities for those who traveled here for work and play. These two industries worked together in the Katahdin region for many years.
Maine is changing. We have an older population, and we do not have enough young and active workers to replace them. We should be doing all that we can to attract people to our region. Instead, our governor has made it harder for those visiting our region to locate the monument by prohibiting road signs, hindering its economic potential.
With a largely rural population, Maine is a state that appreciates and welcomes those who participate in all forms of outdoor recreation. According to state reports, the five most popular forms of recreation in the state are running and jogging, fishing, bicycling, hiking and camping. In the Katahdin region, we would add snowmobiling to the list. The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument provides a wonderful opportunity for all these activities.
Having another beautiful tract of land to recreate in will attract more people to the communities surrounding the monument and benefit their economies.
The monument also is developing continuing education programming for staff from the local schools as well as programming for children.
Monument staff are increasing collaboration between stakeholders surrounding the monument, providing opportunities that engage visitors to the monument, further increasing the likelihood that they have a enjoyable experience and return. The monument provides yet another educational and leisure opportunity for new residents of the region to enjoy.
Over the past few years, the need for residents to come together and bring new life to the region has been answered. Several groups have sprung up focusing on economic development, community engagement and volunteerism. This has sent a charge of hope to our residents.
We know now that a one size fits all approach to the economy is not an ideal way to maintain a community. Great Northern was a prime example of that. Instead, we realize that it is going to take many different approaches to restructure the region. The monument is one piece of the puzzle in attracting visitors and businesses to the region. It can thrive alongside the forest products industry.
I’m calling on not only my constituents in Millinocket, but the Katahdin region as a whole, Maine, and the nation of recreationalists and forward-thinkers to let our governor hear our pleas. We need the monument to attract more entrepreneurs and adventure seekers.
We need to be cohesive in redeveloping the region by letting people in and not pushing them out. Help us continue our fight for economic redevelopment by contacting your local government, state representatives, and the governor’s office to make sure they know that the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is wanted for the people of this nation.
Cody McEwen is Millinocket town councilor, and he works in education. He graduated from the University of Maine in Orono in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in parks, recreation and tourism, and a minor in psychology.