It would be the first step toward the creation of a national park as well as desperately needed jobs.
by Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce in Millinocket
Portland Press Herald op-ed
MILLINOCKET — Many residents and organizations in the Katahdin region support a proposed national monument east of Baxter State Park. This national monument would be created with land donated, along with an endowment to pay for operating expenses, to the American people. It would be the first step toward the creation of a national park and national recreation area on up to 150,000 acres.
This would be a huge benefit to the people of the Katahdin region, as well as the people of Maine and the nation. The national monument could provide important economic benefits to our region at a time when we urgently need positive developments. That is why there is much support for the proposal in the region.
The board of directors of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce voted unanimously to endorse the proposed national park and national recreation area. The Katahdin Area Chamber represents 140 members in the communities of Millinocket, East Millinocket, Medway, Lincoln, Patten, Sherman, Brownville and the surrounding unorganized townships.
As a third-generation lifelong citizen of Millinocket, with deep roots in the community, I am intimately familiar with the challenges we are facing on a daily basis. The Millinocket mill is now gone for good. The East Millinocket mill has been sold for salvage. The Old Town mill is closed, and the Lincoln mill has filed for bankruptcy. Bucksport has also shut down and is being dismantled; for the first time in 140 years, there are no paper mills in the entire Penobscot River watershed.
Once we had businesses that catered to working folks with good incomes; now we have emergency food pantries and thrift stores. If our homes are selling at all, they are selling for pennies on the dollar. Our property tax rate is high – one of the highest in the state; municipal services are being cut, and our school systems are skeletons of their former selves compared to when Millinocket-area teachers were some of the highest-paid in Maine.
For many, despair has settled in as the situation has gone from bad to worse. Although we will continue to work hard to maintain as many forest products jobs as possible, we also need economic diversification – which a national monument can help provide.
A national monument and eventually a national park would create desperately needed jobs in the region.
Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed a major shift in attitudes about the proposed national park and national recreation area. I support the project because I care so deeply about the future of our communities.
We are surrounded by natural resources that could be used in new ways to create jobs, attract people to the region and help us move forward. I also believe that a national monument and eventually a national park could help shine a spotlight on our proud forest-sector heritage and history.
The proposed national monument is no silver bullet. It is but one piece of a larger puzzle that needs to be assembled. But it is an important piece – for our region and for the state of Maine.
As national parks and monuments have been created over the last 100 years, they have faced initial opposition. Many of our nation’s treasured national parks, monuments and forests were opposed, but then strongly supported once they were established.
An excellent report by the Center for Western Priorities looked closely at places like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier Bay, Redwood National Park and more. Their conclusion is that “in each case, early criticism was eventually overwhelmed by strong public and political support that remains today.” In each case there were opponents who found themselves eventually on the wrong side of history. Visitation, job creation and dollars infused the economies of the local communities and proved them wrong.
That is why the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce has been joined by the Katahdin Area Rotary, the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, the Bangor City Council, the Maine Innkeepers Association and hundreds of other businesses in northern Maine to support the proposed national park and recreation area.
With the centennial of the National Park Service being celebrated now, in 2016, the step we can take on that path is to support a national monument. Please join the many supporters of the proposed national monument in the Katahdin region and show your support for this addition to the national park system. This is a historic opportunity for the Katahdin region.
— Special to the Press Herald