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The forest and the trees

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Maine is the stereotypical escape destination. People migrate here from hectic cities around New England and the country, planning for years to make it their home. The ocean, the woods, the mountains, good schools, and low crime all contribute to Maine’s rich ambience.

Yet this idyllic state is not without its problems.

Mainers have traditionally relied on the land for their living. Fishing and lobstering are significant sources of income for residents along the coast. Bangor, once the lumber capital of the world, still relies heavily on the paper industry, as does the rest of the state. Yet tourism is also a major industry here. Visitors come from all over the country, Europe, and Canada to bask in the unspoiled wilderness of woods, coast, and mountains, and the interests of paper and fishing have not always been compatible with tourism.

Early in November, Mainers voted whether to increase regulations on clearcutting forests in Maine. The measure failed, and failed to decide a hotly-debated issue that has raged in Maine for years. A referendum last November to ban clear cutting was also narrowly defeated.

Although organizations on both sides of the issue—the paper companies and some preservationists—favored the referendum this time around, other preservationist groups opposed it, saying it did not go far enough to protect the forest. In addition, some small landowners felt it was intrusive.

The dual approval seemed to bode well for the measure. The paper industry, which uses the forests, is the biggest money maker in a state which lacks a strong manufacturing economy. Tourism is second.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the trend in Maine was strongly preservationist. Now, with the development of environmentally friendly businesses, Mainers seem to lean toward economic growth and sensible management of resources.

“Somebody said a long time ago, you can’t eat the scenery,” says Donald Krause, MD, a Bangor internist. “I think the emphasis is now becoming, ‘How do you make a stable job environment? How do you invite new businesses to come in that are environment friendly?’

“You have to balance growth with the environment. I think Maine is very keen about that,” says Krause.

A city in the country

In the center of the state and tangent to all the elements of conflict and prosperity in Maine is Bangor, a city of 33,000 located midway between the coastal and woodland regions. The city is where citizens from the central, eastern, and northern parts of the state converge to find medical care, legal services, do their banking, and shop. Bangor is ‘the city’ for nearly 400,000 people of Maine.

“It looks like a little city of 30,000 yet it has a medical center with 430 beds and an open-heart surgery program. That contrast is really a metaphor for what this city serves in many ways,” says Erik Steele, DO.

Yet Bangor retains the character of a small city. “We’re the referral area for 400,000 people but you don’t have to live with them,” says internist Frank Bragg, MD. “I call it a city in the country.”

Residents relish the freedom to allow their children to play in the neighborhoods. They don’t need home alarms or auto security systems—some don’t even lock their cars.

“I live in a community where I’m not afraid to have my children walk on the streets or to go trick-or-treating,” says Steele. “But on the other hand it has a symphony orchestra and an active theater group.”

“It doesn’t mean we don’t have crime,” Steele adds. “Every once in a while something happens here that makes us all gasp. But the fact that it makes us all gasp is a testimony that it is not an everyday occurrence.”

The novels of Stephen King, a 17-year resident of Bangor, probably generate more gasps than local crimes. Bangor averages only 71 violent crimes per year per 100,000 persons. The national average is 408. Maine, as a state, ranks 47th in its violent crime rate with 130 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

The University of Maine in Orono, 15 miles northeast of Bangor, lends an academic tone to Bangor. “It is a very community- focused university so that it is easy to se it, easy to access it. That has a huge impact on the community,” says Krause.


Bett Coffman

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