By Michelle Moody, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument — and the communities surrounding it — is a treasure with incredible potential, if only people are allowed to realize it.
This summer, my local hiking group began planning a visit to the proposed national monument. We were thrilled when the land was designated as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument two weeks before our trip. After all, how many people get to experience the birth of a national monument or park?
It’s possible to see the potential of the monument just by driving the loop road. The views from the scenic overlook are the kind you remember forever. Along with Katahdin and Katahdin Lake, you can see most of the Appalachian Trail’s 100-mile wilderness — from the Chairbacks to Katahdin — all nestled in a breathtaking expanse of what remains, for the time being, the largest stretch of undeveloped forest in east of the Mississippi. Thankfully, this small part is conserved forever as a monument. One of the best features of the overlook, like the Katahdin Loop Road, is its accessibility. Anyone, even those with mobility issues, will be able to enjoy these views.
We also hiked to the summit of Barnard Mountain. The hike sets out along the International Appalachian Trail, currently an old logging road. I hope the International Appalachian Trail is moved off the road, but that section was worth it to get to the trail ascending the mountain. Unlike many trails in Maine, this one contains many switchbacks that not only make the hike a bit easier but help prevent erosion and trail damage. After a short hike, we arrived at the summit, an open, granite ledge with stunning views and the most interesting picnic table, which was custom built for the steep site. This may be the finest picnic spot in Maine.
After the hike we headed back to Mt. Chase Lodge for dinner and lodging. We learned a bit about the proprietors of the lodge over a great meal. Lindsay and Mike Downing, a young couple who recently moved to the Katahdin region, are indicative of the small-business owners with the potential to capitalize on the monument. Lindsay Downing’s parents owned the lodge for decades, and she knows the Katahdin region very well, having grown up in the shadow of Katahdin. Lindsay and Mike Downing traveled extensively after college and spent time in several national parks, seeing firsthand how beneficial they can be to the communities surrounding them. They have purchased the old lodge and cabins from her parents, and they are already making strides to update and improve the place and the experience it provides the many visitors who are sure to flock to the area in the coming years.
How many people, trapped by concrete and technology, need to reconnect with such a place? Millions have never experienced anything like this. Now, with this national recognition, long due this special corner of the world, people will know what is here. They will visit the place and the communities that surround the monument, helping small-business owners, such as Lindsay and Mike Downing, reinvent their communities and rewrite the future of the region.
In order for this potential to be realized and developed, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument needs to be given a chance, and Congress and the president should give it the support it needs to succeed. This monument shouldn’t be hard to get behind. Its creation is supported by 72 percent of Mainers, and in the 2nd Congressional District two-thirds of residents supported the establishment of the monument. Congress and the president should support the entire National Park System, which enjoys support from 95 percent of voters and is a huge economic engine for the nation.
When the paper industry left, it devastated Maine’s economy, particularly in Penobscot County. But national monuments cannot be exported. National monuments cannot be unmade by presidents. The hard hit communities, people and surviving small businesses in the Katahdin region now have the closest thing a community can get to guaranteed sustainable economic activity. According to the proprietors of Mt. Chase Lodge, that activity is already picking up.
Elected officials should support it and keep uncertainty out of the equation.
Michelle Moody of Topsham is a hike, paddle, snowshoe and cross-country ski leader for the Maine chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. She also is a member of the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club and the Maine Island Trail Association.