Gov. Paul LePage’s latest political attack on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a colossal blunder. On Feb. 14, he sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to rescind the executive order that created the national monument. For a governor who touts his pro-economy and pro-business approach to governing, he sure finds a way to undermine these on a regular basis. What he doesn’t seems to understand is that national monuments and parks provide tremendous, long-term economic benefits for the communities around them and the states where they’re located.
Acadia National Park officials estimated that 2.8 million people visited Acadia in 2015, and they directly spent $248 million in the local economy. That spending supported 3,878 jobs. When the exponential benefits to other businesses are factored in, it leads to a cumulative economic impact of $305 million. In 2016, Acadia received an estimated 3.3 million visitors, the highest since 1989. That’s an increase of 17 percent, which likely means its economic impact in 2016 was $356 million.
Tourism is a large economic engine and contributes about $5.6 billion to the Maine economy. Maine is marketed as “The Vacationland,” and the value of tourism to Maine has been increasing on average 4.5 percent per year. Tourism is our golden goose; it is growing and sustainable. Many of us in Bar Harbor remember the days when tourism slowed down around Labor Day. Now October is the new August, with most of the hotels and restaurants filling up each night.
Many of us who guide tours through Acadia are excited for the national monument. We are promoting that region and encouraging our tourists to travel north. Certainly, the people of the Katahdin region deserve a chance to capitalize on the growing tourism industry. Regional reports are coming in that real estate sales are improving. With the monument and the Millinocket Marathon, there is a feeling the tide has turned. To pull the rug out now would be meddling, myopic and a grave injustice.
Throughout history there have been many examples of narrow-minded local or state officials initially opposing the creation of national parks and monuments. When the Glacier Bay National Monument was established in the 1920s, an Alaskan paper said, “This [designation] is a monstrous crime against development and advancement. It leads one to wonder if Washington has gone crazy catering to conservation faddists.” Today, that park contributes $179 million to the local economy. In 1980, the city of Seward in Alaska passed two resolutions renouncing the creation of Kenai Fjords National Park, but within a few years rescinded those and asked for the park to be expanded as it became clear it was in their best interests to do so.
LePage has offered no alternative solutions for the people of the region to improve economically. In the last three years, five Maine paper mills have closed, and this resource-based economy is becoming less viable for people to make a livelihood. Proponents of the monument, such as Lucas St. Clair, have gone to great lengths to maintain the expressed regional interest in traditional uses. For example, hunting will be allowed on land east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and many snowmobile routes will be preserved.
Last summer, one of my best friends took his family on a two-month camping trip across the country to visit the national parks. His two sons were amazed, and it was a truly life-changing experience. Why wouldn’t we want to create that same opportunity for hardworking families to have profound outdoor experiences in our beautiful state?
Let’s not forget that many retailers such as L.L. Bean, Cabela’s, Patagonia, Cadillac Mountain Sports and others may have interest in expanding into the monument region. How many more lobster dinners would we sell? The time is long overdue for this governor to join U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and King in supporting the monument. LePage’s letter to Trump was shortsighted, mean-spirited and based on a stubborn, insular and narrow ideology that hurts the people of Maine.
Zack Klyver has worked in the tourism industry in Bar Harbor for 30 years. He is from Eastport.