PATTEN — U.S. Sen. Angus King’s public meeting with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis about the proposed Maine Woods National Monument will be viewed by posterity as truly historic.

If you weren’t able to attend, relying instead on media coverage, you could be forgiven for believing that the atmosphere inside the Collins Center at the University of Maine was thick with division and strife. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Orono hall was packed almost to capacity (1,400 people), and the mood was positive and uplifting for those, like me, who are looking for a brighter future for northern Maine.

In order to intrigue us, the press often focuses on division and negativity. They forget that unity and inspiration can be just as, if not more, compelling and, in this case, more accurate. As a northern Mainer who attended the meeting that Sen. King hosted and moderated, I can attest to that first hand.

I graduated from Katahdin High School in Stacyville, served in the Army and now live in Patten with my family. I haven’t always supported the proposal to create a national park – but the proposal didn’t always look the way it does now.

The proposal has improved to include protections for many of the things we enjoy, value and earn a living from. The land and activities that make up Maine’s North Woods are as much a part of us as we are of them. The mills and timber companies shaped this land and, in turn, we’ve been shaped through generations that built our communities.

But the paper companies left us and took with them something many never imagined could be taken: the certainty of our economic well-being. Much of the land previously owned by paper companies has changed hands multiple times, and it will continue to do so. Like the ownership of the forests surrounding them, our communities have changed drastically.

Our challenge is to accept that change happens and to shape rather than try to fight it. Rocks are carved and shaped by the consistency of change in the river flowing between them. But the river is still contained and guided. We must understand this principle and embrace the fact that, while change is constant, it can be managed and channeled to make something beautiful.

Most Mainers, including many of us in the Katahdin region, understand this. And I want to emphasize that word.

Mainers.

Some elected officials and those within the media seem intent upon dividing us into warring factions: rich vs. poor, south vs. north, rural vs. urban. While this may stir up political bases, it does nothing to move forward the Katahdin region or Maine as a whole, nor does it reflect the simple truth that we are all Mainers and that, certainly in the case of the national monument proposal, we are overwhelmingly united.

Sixty-seven percent of us in the 2nd District have embraced the generous offer by Elliotsville Plantation Inc. to donate its 87,000 acres and what Jarvis rightly acknowledged as an unprecedented $40 million endowment as a gift to the American people.

On May 16, at least 1,100 people from every part of Maine came to tell Sen. King and Jarvis that we support this proposal. Support was nearly 10-to-1!

I was overwhelmed and grateful to my fellow Mainers from Presque Isle, Newport, Bethel, Rockland, Portland, Waterville, Pittsfield, Orono, Bangor, Bar Harbor and everywhere in between, all of whom joined people from Medway, Millinocket, East Millinocket, Patten, Sherman and Mt. Chase.

Many spoke in support of the proposal for economic reasons, many for conservation or recreation reasons and many for all of the above.

The media and the governor would have people believe everyone was bussed to Orono from southern Maine. But of the 1,100 or so supporters, only about 200 arrived on buses. I rode to Orono on one of them, which started in Patten and picked up folks in Sherman and Medway. There was also a bus to help people get to the meeting from the western mountains and the midcoast. There were 39 northern Mainers on my bus – more, I have since learned, than were on the bus from Portland.

Sen. King did the right thing by ensuring that people from north, south, east and west, for or against, Mainers all, could express themselves in a historic open forum. I’m sure he was as overwhelmed as I by the supporters and the positive spirit of the evening. My hope is that he will express that support publicly to the president and help us begin to move forward as a region and a state.