Dear Maine,

Hi. It has been years since I left you, and I bet you’re a bit surprised I’m writing after all this time.

Yeah, I know, it was abrupt. Most people who knew us thought you and I were happy together there in The County and that lovely town of Presque Isle. But when given the chance I jumped at a move to California, and there are some days I still regret ending things between us.

I’m really sorry I haven’t written; I still think of you often all these years after I moved to the West. Life out here in California is distracting (yeah, earthquakes, fires, drought) and a bit nuts sometimes, but I’ve never forgotten you or your people, who I loved. I tell people that during two years in Maine, I made as many friends as I’ve made after 16 years in California.

I really miss you, Maine, especially this time of year, when you were full of the early summer green I fell in love with. But I have something I should have told you years ago, and it’s mostly the reason why I left. You need to know that you really stink in one big quality-of-life aspect: public land. It’s true.

While many of your residents can still hunt, fish and ride all-terrain vehicles on vast private lands, they’re not yours – the people of Maine’s. You see, beautiful places aren’t well-protected until they’re given to the people, and even then it can still be a challenge. Out here in the West we have fantastic resources of open space available to all of us and yes, they’re our land, public lands, and only a few cranks in Nevada and Utah would change that.


I know it’s probably hard to understand if you haven’t been to the West, but Maine, you have so little public land that as a park and recreation professor, I just couldn’t bear working with you any longer. I was starving for access to public lands, even after I looked really hard for places to bring my park management students.

Yeah, Baxter and Acadia are pretty awesome, but that was all you could offer my University of Maine students – a five-hour drive for a class on protected places. I ended up sending many of them to do internships in the sprawling public land systems of the American West. Some of my former students are still here. They say hi. They say there’s nothing for the folks at home in Maine to fear: Our rural communities in the West wouldn’t give away the prosperity that public lands visitors bring for anything.

See, you’ve been told since you were young that you had plenty of open country to hunt, camp, paddle and roam in. But that land wasn’t yours, Maine – it was a timber company’s. Wild country? The Allagash Wilderness Waterway (this is really hard to say) is simply … an embarrassment.

I know, I know, you were always so proud of it. But it’s about size. Maine, it’s not wild land when you can see roads, listen to the rumble of logging trucks and hear the maw of chainsaws from a campsite. Trees? The northern part of the state is covered in dog-hair timber scarcely 6 inches thick. To see big trees I had to drive Down East, or even (I’m sorry, Maine!) over to New Hampshire.

Maine was about as wild as an Iowa cornfield is wild. I mean, it was “natural,” but a cornfield can give you only so much breathing room.

Maybe one day you’ll understand and will draw larger lines around your little public places and make them bigger. Even the people of rural Utah are glad they have the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in their region, but boy, did they ever set up a yowl when it was created. Now it’s an economic tourism engine that rural Utah would not part with.


Maine, I miss you, but you really need to enlarge your vision of the value of large-scale public parks and protected forests. I say this with love: Your kids deserve better.

I think of you often. I know it’s been years, but I just wanted to say hello.

With love from California,


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