Those of us who live inland in rural Maine must give up the slogan “Vacationland” — we are now known as “Mosquitoland.”

What on Earth could Gov. Paul LePage have been thinking when he testified at a congressional hearing that tourists come to the Maine coast, not inland to “mosquito land”? He indicated no one would want to visit there. I guess our new tourism ads will have to say, “Come to Maine. We’ll provide the bug spray.”

Perhaps we all need to move to the Maine coast, because the governor indicated they don’t have mosquitos there. News to me! And I spend a lot of time there.

It is true that most tourists come here to experience lighthouses and lobster rolls. But many of us have been working hard to bring more of those tourists inland. There are initiatives aimed at getting some of these visitors to experience our wonderful inland attractions. The governor certainly didn’t help us with that effort.

One of the best ideas is the new national monument just north of Millinocket and next to Baxter State Park. I spent time there before it was designated a national monument, and I can tell you that the East Branch of the Penobscot River is a world-class river, with amazing rock structures and exceptional fishing for native brook trout. I caught some whoppers there. Linda and I also enjoyed kayaking on the river.

The monument designation is already generating excitement in the region and drawing tourists to that very special area. Linda and I have a camp on Nesowadnehunk Lake on the west side of Baxter Park, and we’ll be regular visitors now to the national monument, just 45 minutes from camp.

The governor actually got a lot more wrong in his testimony. For example, he said that Baxter State Park is a working forest. Gov. Percival Baxter must have turned over in his grave when he heard that — he designated most of his generous donation as a “forever wild” area. But to accommodate local interests, he did allow a Scientific Forest Management Area in a northern section of the park, just 14 percent of the total park acreage.

I like the concept of the national monument for many reasons, including the fact that Baxter works to limit the number of visitors there, to keep the park “forever wild.” Linda and I are lucky, because the park is in our camp’s back yard. We do get to spend a lot of time there. But it isn’t easy for folks to get a camping spot, or even to get to climb Mt. Katahdin, because of the park’s limitations of everything from reservations to parking spots.

When Linda and I first purchased our camp, Millinocket was the state’s most prosperous town. As time went on, it became our most desperate. I’ve been working with the good folks who still live there — many homes have been abandoned — to save their local library, which the town can no longer afford to support. The monument is bound to help the entire area, and the governor’s attempt to reverse that designation is both shortsighted and harmful.

As Sen. Angus King noted, “This review is unnecessary and only reignites controversy in a region that was beginning to heal and move forward. Furthermore, the monument has already begun to yield real economic benefits to the region, and has done so with no negative impact on Maine’s forest products industry. I am deeply concerned that this review will stifle that progress by threatening future investments and hampering economic growth when it is needed there now more than ever before.”

Let’s talk tourism for a moment. In 2016, our tourism economy generated $6 billion in spending and supported 106,000 jobs, about one in every six jobs in our state. The total economic impact of tourism was $9 billion — and tourists paid almost $600 million in state taxes. Nearly 36 million visitors enjoyed our state last year. Tourism is our biggest industry.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, let me put that in context for you. Linda and I enjoyed a two-week birding adventure in southeast Arizona in late April and early May. There, I learned that 42 million tourists visited that state in 2015, spending a whopping $21 billion and supporting 180,000 jobs.

And get this. Those tourists paid $3 billion in taxes! Yes, other states not only get more tourists, but they get a lot more money from their tourists. And this doesn’t even count the many folks — including lots of Mainers — who now live in Arizona seasonally. We ran into Mainers all over the place.

And I can also tell you — there are plenty of bugs out there. But their governor doesn’t trumpet that fact to the nation.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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