March 21, 2023

Katahdin Pie in the Sky

Daring to dream is often met head on with reality. Reality sometimes sucks and sometimes it’s much better than the dream. Once again we are faced with one’s perspective on what is desirable and what is prosperity.

I read Charles Lawton’s piece, “Approach Taken by Our Katahdin may Show the Way to Prosperity.” The foundation of the article seemed to be that both the tourism industry as well as the wood products industry can be “prosperous” in the Katahdin region – both at the same time.

I have to ask. What is prosperity and relative to what?

Let’s be real for a moment…if there really is such a thing. There is one thing and one thing only that keeps me going back to the Katahdin Region once every 20 years – there’s nobody there and the fishing can be pretty good. To prepare, I buy up an ample supply of bug dope. Aside from the “wilderness” about all there is is a glimpse at Mt. Katahdin and that can be done from Interstate 95. And, if you are one of the handful of people (by comparison) who would like to hike up the mountain, that can take a day.

The glamour (that would be one large sector of the public that see glamour in going some place where all the people that drove them there aren’t) of the area is what you see is what you get. I was taught by one of my ski coaches many years ago that you can’t make a good salad if all you have is lettuce.

So, can you live and run a business in the Katahdin region and be prosperous? Nobody’s figured that out so far. But then again what means prosperous? It appears that there’s a war of worlds, partly driven by the notion that millions of people crammed into the Katahdin Region would spell prosperity, YUK! And those that like the region because nobody is there. How much is good and how much is enough? What will spoil it? There’s already plenty of places to go where there’s too many people.

I was born and raised in Maine. I enjoyed the lifestyle…that is the outdoors, recreation, hunting, fishing, hiking, etc. It sucked being poor all the time, trying to be creative to come up with ways to pay the bills. Maine has a history of not producing year round jobs with benefits, especially when you choose to live in those areas that you share with the wood products industry and pretend you are a tourist destination. Large land owners and logging operations keep the “people from away” away. Isn’t that the attraction?

According to this article, this organization called Our Katahdin is planning for a future when there will be a “strip” running from Interstate 95, 15 miles to the entrance to Baxter State Park. This development will all happen as logging trucks, like bees to a hive, tool down the highway creating a cloud of dust – coexistence.

Evidently, this developing prosperity is going to be because Maine, and the Nation, now has a a piece of that land, of which the only appeal is gawking at trees and hoping to catch a glimpse of a mountain that is about as remarkable as the couple of books written about it, more often than not filled with tales of being lost.

I do recall that when I first began writing about hunting, fishing and other outdoor events, I was just coming out of spending many years in the tourism-related industry of hotel and motel management in Maine, along with owning my own bed and breakfast. After all, doesn’t every one think they can “retire” (prosperous) by opening up a bed and breakfast? Probably they dream about that as thoroughly as someone who actually believes they are going to “prosper” by the coexistence of logging and tourism in the same town – a town so removed it is why logging works and tourism doesn’t. Or, should I say logging used to work. I’ll spare the politics of why it’s a bit in trouble.

In the writing endeavor I quickly learned that there existed basically two kinds of outdoor sportsmen – those that thought Maine should spend gobs of money to advertise how great the hunting and fishing were, and those that thought it a better idea if things remained just as they are. Why spoil it? The war is real.

If you are in the tourism-related business, hauling them in by the bus loads seems a wonderful idea. Then what?

I remember stirring the ire of a lady one evening at a town meeting sponsored by the State of Maine gathering people’s thoughts on whether the state should undertake widening the Maine Turnpike. For those not familiar with Maine, it’s the only major highway entrance to the state from the south (Canada to the north and east). Most Mainers didn’t want more of “those from away” coming to their state. Those that didn’t grow up and live here, wanted it widened and even more major highways built saying that “where I come from we had….” I spoke up and asked if they were drawn to come live in the state for what it was, why is it that you now want to make it just like where you couldn’t wait to get the hell out of?

The way I see it, and I admit I’m as weird as weird can get, if the Katahdin Region has something there to attract more people, it would have already happened and maybe logging and tourism would live happily ever after.

In 20 years, I may eat my words, but the chances of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument attracting enough people to the region that “prosperity” sets in from tourism, are about as good as Mt. Desert Island tipping over due to too many people.