What we need in the Katahdin region right now — and I mean today — is a broader and more sustainable economy. A national monument for our Maine woods would be a big step in exactly the right direction.
Spending a lifetime in northern Maine gives a middle-aged business owner like me a certain perspective about what we have gone through in recent decades and what our options are now. Having once worked in those forests that used to be a big economic driver for Maine, I know we’re not going back to those days. We have to look to the future. There’s no single answer. We don’t have a magic wand we can wave.
But the proposed gift of forest land plus an endowment from a private landowner is simply a no-brainer. There’s no way we can turn down an opportunity to get the kind of national recognition that would come along with a Maine Woods National Monument. You only have to look as far as Acadia National Park for evidence, which is just one of many places that has leveraged this type of gift into benefits for the local economy.
Sure, there are some opponents to the idea. The question is, do we want to accept some important changes for the better or get mired in a rut?
Opinions locally and across the state overwhelmingly support the idea of establishing a national monument in our region.
We need to attract businesses and residents who believe communities like Sherman have better days ahead, not worse days.
It would be wonderful if my adult children lived closer. But they have found it easier to make a living and raise their families in southern Maine. If we had a more robust economy in northern Maine, perhaps my two daughters and my son, who served three tours in Iraq, would move back to this part of the state. Why wouldn’t we take this modest step to make our community more attractive?
Even if the most conservative estimates are accurate, the Maine Woods National Monument would add valued jobs and income to our community. Nationwide, outdoor recreation generates more than $600 billion in economic activity every year. Just a small slice of that pie could help us in the Katahdin region turn a corner and begin to make our communities a more attractive place to draw visitors and new businesses.
U.S. Sen. Angus King seems interested in talking about the idea, but what we need right now is action. The time for political and philosophical debates is over. The question now is quite simple: At the end of the day, are we going to move a national monument from idea to reality?
Yes or no? Go or no-go?
Stuart Kelley owns Kelly’s Shell Gas Station and Convenience Store at Interstate 95 Exit 264 in Sherman.