By Zack Klyver
Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s latest political attack on the North Woods National Monument is a colossal blunder.
On Feb. 14, he sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to revoke the national monument status. For a governor who touts his pro-economy and pro-business approach to governing, he sure finds a way to undermine those areas on a regular basis.
LePage has consistently put his anti-federal and “big government” ideology ahead of what is best for the people of Maine and its economy. What he seems not to understand is that where national monuments and parks are established, tremendous and long-term economic benefits are generated and accrue for surrounding communities and states.
Acadia National Park officials estimated that 2.8 million visitors arrived in 2015 and contributed more than $248 million in direct visitor spending. They estimate that the exponential benefit equaled $305 million and supported 3,878 jobs.
In 2016, Acadia received a record 3.3 million visitors; an increase of 15 percent, which likely brought its economic valuation benefit to nearly $350 million. In 2015, at Yellowstone National Park, four million visitors contributed nearly $500 million in spending to the economy of Wyoming. Last year, the national parks had record attendance as visitation rose 7 percent.
Tourism is Maine’s largest economic engine and annually generates $5.6 billion in economic activity, which is more than fisheries, forestry and agriculture put together. Maine is marketed as “Vacationland,” and the value of tourism to Maine has been increasing at 4.5 percent annually.
Tourism is our golden goose. It is growing, and it is sustainable. Many of us in Bar Harbor remember those days when tourism slowed down around Labor Day. Now October is the new August, and it remains busy through the end of that month, with most of the hotels and restaurants filling up each night.
Increasing visitation in Acadia has many engaged in efforts to minimize the negative impacts. Park staff members have been working with local communities and are well into the process of revising the transportation plan and looking at ways to manage increasing demands on the infrastructure.
Many of us that guide tours through Acadia have been excited for and proud of the new Maine North Woods Monument. We have been promoting the region and encouraging our tourists to travel north. Certainly the people of the Millinocket and Katahdin region deserve a chance to capitalize on the growing tourism economy. Regional reports are coming in that real estate sales are improving. With the new monument, and additionally the Millinocket Marathon, there is a feeling that 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. The Grand Canyon is one example in which many officials worried about “states rights” used that claim as an excuse to allow them to dam or mine the canyon for personal gain. Another example was Glacier Bay National Monument in the 1920s. An Alaskan paper wrote, “This (designation) is a monstrous crime against development and advancement. It leads one to wonder if Washington has gone crazy catering to conservation faddists.”
In the 1980s, when the status was elevated to National Park, many people in nearby Juneau took to the streets with guns to protest. Today, that park generates $160 million in economic activity. If you tried to take it from them the people of Juneau, they would take to the streets with guns.
Extreme ideologues like LePage wrongly believe that if they are righteous, they are right. However, he offers no alternative solutions for the people of the region to improve that economy. In the last four years, five Maine paper mills have been closed. A resource-based economy is becoming less viable for people to make a livelihood.
As Anne Rush, a native of Sherman, said during the public hearing last summer held by Sen. Angus King and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, “Maine, the way life should be. If you drive through Millinocket or Sherman right now, that is not the way life should be.”
Proponents of the monument, like 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.
This 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. It was a truly life-changing experience. Why wouldn’t we want to create that same opportunity for hard-working families to have profound outdoor experiences in our beautiful state?
Let’s not forget that many retailers like L.L. Bean, Cabela’s, Patagonia, Cadillac Mountain Sports and others should improve their bottom line and may have interest in expanding into the region. How many more lobster dinners would we sell?
The time is long overdue for this governor to join Sens. Susan Collins and King in supporting the monument. Lepage’s letter to the White House was shortsighted, mean-spirited and based on a stubborn, insular ideological tool kit that will only hurt Maine people in the long run.
Zack Klyver of Bar Harbor is from Eastport and has worked in the tourism industry for 30 years.