Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bangor Daily News: National park would help revive economies in rural areas where paper mills closed

The decline of paper mills in Maine has left rural areas that relied on the industry with high rates of unemployment, plummeting property values and declining populations, leaving many rural communities trying to find ways to diversify local economies, reports the editorial board of The Bangor Daily News. "There is a project on the table that promises to aid in economic development and diversity—the proposal to create a national park in the Katahdin Region, a part of the state hit hard by the closure of paper mills." But so far state lawmakers "have been resistant to a national park or national monument." (Best Places map: The Great Northern Paper Co. in Millnocket closed in 2014, laying off 200 employees. The region has been proposed for a national park )

Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Independent Sen. Angus King "wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, asking her to assemble an Economic Development Assessment Team to help rural regions in Maine inventory their assets and identify challenges and opportunities to diversify their economies," states the board. "Among the senators’ requests to Pritzker, three are crucial: strengthening the workforce and workforce training efforts in rural Maine, developing strategies to support bottom-up economic development and sharing national best practices for economic development in rural regions affected by the decline of industry."

"But the majority of Maine residents, including those in Maine’s more rural 2nd Congressional District, support a national park," states the board. "Nationally, areas surrounding national parks saw larger population gains between 1970 and 2010 than the U.S. as a whole—and certainly much more than rural Maine. These areas also outpaced the U.S. in income growth and employment gains during that period. This is the type of growth—especially an influx of new people—that the Katahdin region needs. Many want to live in scenic places with ample recreational opportunities. Some of these new residents will bring businesses and entrepreneurial skills with them."

"A national park or monument is not a panacea, but it can be an important part of the region’s remaking," states the board. "That’s why the assessment Collins and King are requesting must examine all possibilities for rural economic development—tourism included." (Read more)

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