We’ve had some terrific good news in Maine over the last few weeks.

The first involves public education, where our eighth-graders scored among the top 10 in the country in math and science.

In any other state, leaders would be proclaiming those successes from the rooftops. But facts that show the strengths of Maine public education seem unwelcome in some parts of Augusta these days, so don’t expect to hear much in the way of congratulations to the educators and students of Maine.

So let’s say it ourselves: Thank you, teachers and administrators of Maine, who have struggled over the last few decades to improve our schools in the face of complex social changes, growing needs and limited resources. The job isn’t done, by any means, but you all deserve our applause.

The second piece of good news didn’t come with any big announcements, but it has equally important implications for the future of Maine’s economy.

In the Katahdin region of the North Woods, a breakthrough is occurring in what has long been a region conflicted about its future and given little to cheer about.

The Katahdin area, like most of western and northern Maine, has been hard hit by steady declines in jobs in the rural and forest economy and the devastating loss of paper mills in Millinocket. Divisions over how the next economy of the region will be built, and what it will include, have been deep and oftentimes angry.

The people of the Katahdin region have been understandably fearful about the future and reluctant to change. But in an economy where mechanization has replaced labor in the woods and the mills, waiting for the past to return can become a frustratingly long and slow road to nowhere.

A new and important conversation has begun in the Katahdin region, in which all the options are on the table, including ones that have been long resisted. One idea that seems to be gaining traction is a new national park and recreation area that would utilize the area’s abundant natural resources in new ways, and perhaps become a foundation block of the region’s future economy.

That idea naturally has its detractors, who remain deeply concerned about its impact on the forest products industry, hunting and snowmobiling, but a full, open and civil conversation is clearly underway.

What has made this breakthrough possible is both the passage of time and the entry into the conversation of a remarkable young man who is quietly making a difference. He is not a politician, a businessman or an environmental leader. But he is clearly a pioneer of Maine’s next economy.

Lucas St. Clair is the son of one of Maine’s iconic entrepreneurs, Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees. Quimby has used her fortune to invest significantly in Maine’s communities, culture and land, and was an early and passionate advocate for a national park in the North Woods. Her advocacy was met with ferocious opposition.

Enter St. Clair, who serves as president of Elliotsville Plantation Inc., which owns about 100,000 acres east of Baxter State Park. St. Clair grew up in the region and understands the concerns and fears people have about what comes next.

He didn’t parachute into the area to make a few speeches and to announce his ideas. Instead, he reached out to hundreds of people in their kitchens, living rooms and businesses, listening carefully and trying to find ways to weave together their dreams and his, and to shape a new economic vision for the region’s future.

That vision, as St. Clair sees it, includes both a national park and national recreation area, up to 150,000 acres in size, that would allow traditional recreation and hunting on about half of the land area, with a national park alongside.

The issues that plague the Katahdin region are similar to issues we confront across the state. How to think in new ways and build bridges across old divides. How to overcome our fears and indecision in order to build the next economy. And how to grow a new prosperity without wrecking the place.

To succeed, we’ll need more people like Lucas St. Clair, who have lived on both sides of the “two Maines,” and who speak the language of both. What people like St. Clair bring to the discussion of Maine’s future is an ability to use both his head and his heart, and to feel as much passion for the people of Maine as he does for its extraordinary natural beauty.

Alan Caron is president of Envision Maine, a nonprofit organization that promotes Maine’s next economy, and a partner at the Caron & Egan Consulting Group. He can be contacted at:[email protected]