By Richard Schmidt III, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
As the anniversary of the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument approaches, this is a good time to celebrate all the benefits the monument is already bringing to Maine and its people, even those few but vocal people who opposed the monument during the years of public discussion prior to its establishment.
Born in the Katahdin region, I left for college and served in the military before returning to raise my family in Patten. I’ve had a front row seat throughout most of the decades-long, very public discussion about a national designation in the region. As a member of the Patten Board of Selectmen, I’ve also had the opportunity since last August to witness and be a part of the incredible success the monument has displayed in just the first few months. This is often best expressed by the new business owners who have moved in, or those that have been here a long time but recently invested and expanded expressly because of the monument — and it’s only the first year.
To be sure, there are still critics. Doubtless, there always will be. Despite the fact that Acadia National Park draws more than 3 million people annually and contributes nearly $275 million to Maine’s economy, there are people who oppose the monument simply because it’s “the federal government.”
After only a year, we’re obviously not seeing those kind of tourism numbers. But the numbers are definitely on the rise. Traffic is up, both foot and car, on main streets throughout the Katahdin region. Local businesses are investing, expanding and making improvements to their storefronts and infrastructure to accommodate new visitors and their interests.
But the most compelling indicator of success is the real estate market.
In the first five months of 2016, real estate transactions in Patten totaled just over $528,000. Contrast that with the four months immediately following the monument’s designation, when there was $1.4 million worth of real estate sales. The first five months of 2017 saw nearly $1.027 million in sales — a nearly 100 percent increase over sales during the same period in 2016. Much of this is directly attributable to the monument. This kind of economic benefit was predictable, and it was one of the reasons support for the designation was so high.
Poll after poll showed more than two-thirds of Mainers statewide and in the 2nd Congressional District supported the creation of a national park or monument. After the monument designation, that jumped to 72 percent. Even some of those few who cling to their opposition of the monument do so despite reaping the financial benefits of the investments made after, and because of, its designation. Some, for instance, had idle properties on the market for years but which have finally sold since last August.
The establishment of the monument in the Katahdin region was like the power returning after a storm. For decades, my community, like many in the region, has seen one disaster after another knock out our lights as northern Maine has hemorrhaged industry, population and vitality.
The anniversary of the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Thursday is a time to celebrate those lights coming back on and cheer the amazing progress, investment and hope already being felt.
But that progress is being slowed by the antics of a governor who cannot see economic benefits from all the way down in Augusta, and a president who will never feel or have to live with the chilling effect his attack on our monument has on our communities. Just when we were breathing a collective sigh of relief that the lights, furnace and fridge were working again, a couple people at the power plant are hacking at the transmission lines.
Mainers are benefiting from the monument, even some of those few Mainers who oppose the designation no matter what. As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke prepares his recommendations for Katahdin Woods and Waters, we need leaders like Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who see and understand the distinct and obvious benefits, to send a clear message to Zinke and the White House.
Things are going well; don’t tear off the bandage.
Richard H. Schmidt III currently resides in Patten with his wife and two children.