Our U.S. senators should recognize the possibilities offered by the marketing of the National Park Service.
By Daniel Kleban, co-founder and co-owner of Maine Beer Co. in Freeport
Portland Press Herald op-ed
FREEPORT — A private family foundation is willing to donate to the American people nearly 88,000 acres of beautiful, pristine and historically important land in the Maine North Woods, provided that the land is protected as a national park, or, at minimum, a national monument. I want to thank U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree for supporting this incredible opportunity, and I urge U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to do the same and to support this generous offer.
It is no secret to those of us who live here that Maine is home to some of the most breathtaking and pristine land in the country. Millions of people travel to Maine to experience its beauty firsthand. Many more will travel here if we have a second national park to showcase. This increased tourism will fuel economic development not only in northern Maine, but across the entire state as well.
As a business owner in southern Maine, I have seen firsthand how a national park generates economic impact far from its location. My brewery is in Freeport, approximately 160 miles, or a 3½-hour drive, from Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor.
I have spoken with countless thirsty patrons who have made Maine Beer Co. a stop on their way up to Bar Harbor and Acadia, and many of these same visitors stop back at the brewery on their return trip so that they can take some MBC beer home with them. My experience is no doubt similar to that of numerous other small businesses across the state. And there is no doubt that my business and many others will benefit if we bring another national park to Maine.
Additionally, a national park in the Katahdin region will certainly lead to increased economic activity in that part of Maine, an area that has been decimated by the unraveling of the paper industry that once supported it. Inns, restaurants, supply stores and many other small businesses will pop up to serve park patrons.
It is not even hard to imagine a craft brewery or two opening up to serve thirsty campers and adventurers. Just think about Bar Harbor Brewing Co., located at the gates of Acadia.
It is important to note that national park or monument status is necessary to help maximize the economic impact. There are, no doubt, numerous state parks in Maine that are just as beautiful and breathtaking as Acadia and the proposed park in the Maine North Woods, but it also cannot be disputed that state parks simply don’t attract the number of visitors, or generate as much economic activity, as national parks.
Acadia attracts nearly 3 million visitors per year, and Baxter attracts roughly 60,000. This disparity is in large part because of the resources and marketing power of the National Park Service, an organization that is able to promote the attractions within its system in ways that no state park can match.
A national park in our Maine North Woods, with its pristine mountain vistas and shimmering blue waterways, will further enhance the classic Maine brand, which is iconic and extends well beyond our borders.
I know of many people who are “from away” who buy Maine Beer Co. beer at home because it reminds them of their time spent vacationing in Maine. The same goes for many other Maine-made products. Consumers across the world want to enjoy a piece of Maine even when they can’t be here, because they were here.
All of this does not mean that there aren’t legitimate concerns about this proposed park, some of which are held by those who live closest to it. The concerns of those most directly affected by the proposed park certainly deserve close attention. And concerns, when legitimate, should be, and in many cases have been, addressed.
But all Mainers will share in the benefits, and even small burdens, of this proposed park. Our elected representatives should consider everyone’s voices and interests. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of Mainers support a second national park in Maine. I urge our representatives to stand up and support the will of the people.