Maine Audubon supported the creation of the the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument because of the area’s value as wildlife habitat and the important role that it plays in providing corridors for wildlife movement. In August, I was fortunate enough to attend the monument’s opening celebration. The National Park Service has already opened an office in downtown Millinocket, complete with park rangers handing out maps and letting visitors know what there is to see and do in Maine’s new national monument.
I first visited Millinocket for the state high school track championship back in 1985. I remember being struck by a photo I saw on that trip of the local high school basketball team that had won the New England Championship sometime in the 1960s. The players looked confident, full of determination to take on the world and win. And today I wonder, with all of the changes in our economy that cause many towns in Maine to struggle, do Millinocket’s young people still have that same confident optimism?
While I can’t claim to definitively answer that question, I see signs that Millinocket’s youth retain the attitude I saw in the basketball team photo. This spring I watched an interesting movie called Too Hot, Too Cold by filmmaker Ross Knowlton of Millinocket. Part skate board flick, part nature walk, and part informational documentary about Millinocket, the film earned Knowlton the Best Young Filmmaker award at the Maine Outdoor Film Festival in 2015. It’s fundamentally an optimistic film, firmly grounded in Millinocket.
If the Maine north woods are to survive as an intact large-scale ecosystem, northern Maine towns like Millinocket need to survive, too. Conservation and stewardship of the environment is fundamentally a local effort, and while the national monument will draw international attention to the area, most of Maine’s northern woods will be looked after by local year-round residents.
Preservation of the north woods is as much a social and economic justice issue as it is an environmental one. We need vibrant towns in northern Maine. And while the national monument alone will not solve all of the region’s problems, the determination and optimism shown by past and present residents of Millinocket make me think that things will be okay in the long run. So it’s time to roll up our sleeves and seize the opportunities created by the Katadhin Woods and Waters National Monument — and begin thinking more broadly how we can help rural Maine experience success.
Ole Amundsen is Executive Director of Maine Audubon. He has more than 25 years of experience in conservation leadership, with a focus on landscape scale conservation, environmental education and finance. Amundsen most recently served as program manager for the national land trust, The Conservation Fund.