We and our elected officials should be jumping at the chance to link two powerful, attractive brands: Maine and National Parks.
By Adam Lee of Cumberland, president of Lee Auto Malls
Maine Sunday Telegram op-ed
If you were driving cross country and your Jeep broke down, would you call the Jeep dealership or Frank’s car repair? If you needed dependable winter boots, would you buy Bean boots or no-name brand boots?
Brands matter. They help clear the path for someone who is not sure what the best product is. This is also true for parks.
There are only 58 national parks in the United States. There are thousands of state parks, including 38 just in Maine. People make a point of going to national parks. They plan vacations around them. America’s national parks attract visitors from around the world.
Here in Maine, a philanthropist is offering to donate land to establish a national park and national recreation area and to raise the endowment to sustain it. We should be jumping at this opportunity.
I have hiked and camped on the land where this new national park may be established east of Baxter State Park. It is spectacular. In one afternoon while hiking to the top of Barnard Mountain with my best friend and our sons, we saw a black bear, a moose, two rabbits, and eagles. I have canoed up the East Branch of the Penobscot River, which winds through this land and reminds me of what Maine must have been like 100 years ago. I believe this land is totally worthy of being a national park.
As much as we hate to admit it, the paper mills are not coming back. Those historically secure, good paying jobs have left Maine and states around the country.
The Katahdin region’s economy is in terrible shape. On August 17, 2014, the Portland Press Herald reported: “[Millinocket] is hemorrhaging people, having lost 35 percent of its population since 1990.
It’s seizing homes by the dozens that people have walked away from and let fall into disrepair. Real estate values have plummeted. Jobs are sparse and unemployment far exceeds the state average.”
The paper industry has changed and it is time for Maine to start picking up the pieces. The solutions will come in the form of dozens of initiatives, and a national park is one that is on the table and within reach. I have yet to hear of any other viable proposal on the table for jobs on this scale. I strongly believe that the time has come to do something positive for jobs in this region.
A national park will attract tourists who not only hike, canoe, and camp, they also stay in B&B’s, go out to dinner, buy T-shirts and hiking boots. Some will buy land for camps or summer homes.
Some will want to relocate their business to be near this new national park.
This park will not solve all of our problems, but it would generate hundreds of jobs over time as demonstrated by a careful economic analysis of the impact of existing, similar national parks across the nation.
They will be different than the jobs we have lost in the timber and paper industry, but they will be jobs that help people stay in Maine and attract people to come work in Maine.
Poll after poll shows that Maine people support the national park by a 2:1 margin. Both the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News have written editorials in support of the proposal.
ELECTED OFFICIALS SHOULD LEND SUPPORT
The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this summer. It is a great time for Maine to capitalize on all of the attention going to national parks and to get our new national park established.
Yet three of four of Maine’s delegation members have not yet thrown their support behind the proposal. Thus, at this point, the best option is for President Obama to declare this area a national monument.
This would be the first step toward a national park and national recreation area. Many of our National Parks, including Acadia, Grand Canyon, and others started as national monuments.
The time has come for leadership from all of our elected officials in Congress to work with the President to make a national monument happen this year. Then they should work in Congress on legislation to make the area a national park and national recreation area.
Maine has brand power. National parks have brand power. Put them together in the Katahdin region, and people from across the nation and around the world would come and see this unique and precious part of the country.