ROCKLAND, Maine — President Obama has selected the head of Rockland’s Island Institute to serve as an alternate member on the Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission.
Philip Conkling said he was honored to have been chosen.
According to Conkling, Ken Curtis, the former governor of Maine and the member retiring from the commission, was sitting and reading The Working Waterfront — the newspaper Conkling’s Island Institute founded and prints — when he was thinking of whom he should recommend.
“It was reading the paper that he thought ‘Ah, how about Philip Conkling,’” Conkling said Wednesday.
The Roosevelt Campobello International Park was created on the land surrounding the cottages of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, a place FDR called his “beloved island.” The 1,000-acre park is a joint memorial created in 1964 by a treaty between the United States and Canada. It is governed by the commission, which is composed of representatives from both countries.
Along with FDR’s family cottage, other cottages and a visitors center, the park’s natural area contains extraordinary cobblestone beaches, sphagnum bogs, fields and forests.
As for his goals as an alternate on the commission, Conkling sees the international park as a potential economic engine for Washington County and would like to help promote it as such.
“One of the big challenges is how to let more people who are visiting Maine understand what a great cultural resource exists on Campobello,” he said.
He also said that he is excited to network with the commissioners and make those ties to midcoast Maine.
Nancy McLeod Carter, a spokeswoman for the Island Institute, said Conkling’s achievements speak well of the institute’s work.
“I think it’s exciting to be a part of an international landmark that represents such great cooperation with two countries,” Carter said. “It’s just exciting to be part of something bigger like that. It’s a huge honor for our president and founder, and we hope it reflects well on the work that our organization has done.”
Conkling founded the Island Institute about 27 years ago to help island communities.
He said he was doing work for a nature conservancy on a remote Washington County island. After his three-day stint, his boat had not arrived. He started wandering the island and found the foundation of what used to be a home.
“Clearly somebody had lived there, and that just really amazed me that this had been a homestead. It took me years and years to figure out who had lived there,” he said.
He began researching further and discovered that there had once been 300 year-round island communities in Maine
“Now there are 15,” he said.
Once he learned of the sharp decline in island populations he wanted to do something about it and “that was the core” of starting the nonprofit.
Conkling has written several books. He has been the recipient of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2008 Nongovernmental Organization of the Year award and has been appointed to the governor’s lobster task force.
The park is reached by crossing the FDR Memorial Bridge from Lubec and, in summer, taking a ferry from Deer Island, New Brunswick.
For information about Roosevelt Campobello International Park, go to www.fdr.net.