Five years ago, then-President Barack Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on 87,000 acres of woodland donated to the people of the United States by businesswoman Roxanne Quimby.

The debates were heated in the years leading up to the declaration, with Democrats largely supporting the idea and Republicans largely opposed, while the residents of the region expressed mixed feelings.

Today, the arguments have settled down, and the park has been given a chance to become part of our state’s outdoor adventure landscape. The results of the decision are starting to come in, and they should be encouraging for everyone concerned about the economy of rural Maine.

According to a study by the National Park Service, visitation to the monument has increased every year, including last year when many people limited their travel because of COVID.

There were 41,000 visitors to the park in 2020, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. They came for the hiking, canoeing, snowmobiling, biking, fishing, hunting and stargazing under the darkest skies in the Northeast.

These visitors spent $2.7 million in communities near the park gates, which, according to the Park Service, supported 38 jobs in the area and generated $3.3 million in economic activity.


That may not sound like much for a region that lost thousands of jobs with the closure of the Great Northern Paper mill. But it is part of a new identity for the region, epitomized by the work of the community-based economic development group Our Katahdin, which has been marketing the former mill site to innovative new companies.

Recreation opportunities are part of what makes the region attractive, and the presence of a national monument literally puts the region on the national map.

A sign of the park’s growing popularity comes with the announcement that reservations for campsites will be included on a National Park Service website starting in August, after four years of operating on a first-come-first-serve basis. And this growth has come while the park’s facilities are in their infancy, said Superintendent Tim Hudson.

“As we grow the amenities for visitors in concert with the Katahdin Region, we expect many more people to find their park at Katahdin Woods and Waters as part of their experience to enjoy this part of the country and all that it offers,” Hudson said.

Now that the fighting is over, it’s good to see the national monument grow, bringing people to the region and showing how much it has to offer.

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