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Maine’s bicentennial an opportunity to celebrate our history, strengths and challenges

Now three months into 2020 Maine is celebrating 200 years of statehood. Our state will recognize its bicentennial on March 15. A January Maine Campus article states that on March 14, Orono will host celebratory activities to recognize both Orono’s 214th birthday and Maine’s bicentennial. Other events include Statehood Day in Augusta on March 15, the Bicentennial Parade in Lewiston on May 16 and others across the state. In order to appreciate, understand and better our state, it is important to understand some of the history, strengths and challenges of our great state.

Maine has a richly unique history. The state touts important events such as the formation of Popham Colony in 1607 and the settlements of the Wabanaki people and Machias residents capturing the British warship the Margaretta in 1775. Nearly 50 years later, Maine seceded from Massachusetts through the Missouri Compromise in 1820, becoming another free state in the Union. Maine passed the nation’s first strong prohibition law in 1851, and Brewer’s Joshua Chamberlain defended Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. 

In ensuing decades, Bangor became known as the lumber capital of the world as Maine’s paper and power industries reached greater success. The Republican Party lost much of its previous dominance over the state in the 1950s, and the state has continued to be more politically balanced still today. Bangor experienced a massive fire in 1911 and immense flooding in 1976. Bar Harbor burned in 1947. Half the state lost power in the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Recently in 2018, Gov. Janet Mills was elected Maine’s first female governor. There is obviously an immensely rich history to the state, which can be more thoroughly researched via the state’s library network, state government publications, online postings and other resources.

As our great state continues its traditions of solving problems and maintaining its New England independence, Mainers should consider the state’s strengths. Despite lower yields in recent years due to cold winters followed by wet springs, News Center Maine reports that Maine saw annual blueberry yields of 100 million pounds in peak years, which is among the highest in the nation. According to the USDA, Maine also grew over 15 million potatoes in 2017. This makes Maine among the top 10 potato growers in the nation. Maine is also known for its growth of corn, apples, strawberries and hay, in addition to sales of dairy products, cattle, turkeys and other agricultural goods. Maine has the largest annual lobster catch of any state and exports $326 million annually in lobsters alone. According to Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, Maine regularly has over $600 million in marine resources and total seafood sales. 

Maine also has historically championed the nation in pulp and paper products, attributable to our 17.6 million acres of forested land. While Maine used to be a national and even international leader in paper and lumber products, the closure of numerous mills in recent years has challenged this status. These mill closures have been a result of cheaper international competition, environmental concern and digital media. However, while Maine mills may no longer employ the 18,000 workers they did between the 1950s and 1980s, a 2016 University of Maine study shows that Maine’s forestry industry still has an $8.5 billion annual impact. Even today, the paper and lumber industries account for 17% of Maine’s GDP, which is certainly sizable. 

Other important industries include our mining, shipbuilding and manufacturing industries. Additionally, the Bangor Daily News reports that Maine added 29,000 jobs in healthcare and education in the first decade of the new millennium. Other services include tourism and outdoor recreation, which are driven by our natural resources. Acadia National Park contributed over $339 million to our economy in 2017 and employed over 4,000 workers. In addition to our coast, tourists are drawn to our northern woods and our proximity to Canada. Agriculture, blueberries, potatoes, seafood, lumber, paper, services and outdoor recreation are among Maine’s greatest economic strengths. 

Maine inevitably also faces challenges. Maine has the highest percentage of Caucasian residents of all states. This is not inherently good or bad, but some groups see it as resistant to diverse perspectives. Maine also has the highest percentage of elderly citizens. The median age is nearly 45 (higher than any other state), U.S. News states that 21% of our population is over 65, and Maine has a higher death rate than birth rate. This impedes the economy; we need young workers.

Maine is hurt disproportionately by climate change. Maine’s Bay of Fundy has the highest tidal fluctuations in the world, and Climate Central estimates that 13,000 Mainers will be at risk of flooding by 2050. Warmer winters also lead to increased deer populations, which deforests our lands, and marine life critical to the state’s economy — lobsters and some fish — are migrating north for colder waters. 

This March 15, celebrate what is great about Maine. Our rich history attests to the state’s fortitude. So for this bicentennial, participate in the festivities. To maintain Maine’s prosperity, we should educate ourselves, stay in Maine to work, support our healthcare industries and be environmentally conscientious. If Mainers use our strengths to overcome our challenges, we can enter our next century of statehood with 20/20 clarity.

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