For Down East's first ever "Best of Maine" issue, let's start with a special category: "Best Kick in the Butt." That's what the Brookings Institution delivered to the state of Maine last year when it released its report, Charting Maine's Future: An Action Plan for Promoting Sustainable Prosperity and Quality Places
. This extraordinary, 144-page document was commissioned by GrowSmart Maine in the hope of starting a statewide conversation about the choices we face. I know it sounds like a snooze, but if you haven't read Charting Maine's Future - available in bookstores and as a free download from growsmartmaine.org - you probably should.
Here's why. Because many of the ideas we have about Maine these days are myths. For example, you hear quite regularly that Maine's population is shrinking. In fact, the report says, our annual rate of growth has nearly doubled since 2000. Every county in Maine - and yes, that includes Washington - has witnessed net gains of people moving here from away. Maine is actually growing faster now than all the other New England states except New Hampshire.
That's interesting, you say, but what does a think-tank report have to do with an issue devoted to the "Best Whoopie Pie" (page 56)? More than you might think. Charting Maine's Future
argues that the best things about Maine are the qualities that make it unique: livable communities, stunning scenery, great recreational opportunities. As we move forward, our collective challenge is to grow economically while protecting the special character of our state. We need to resist the forces of homogenization, not just out of a nostalgic sentimentality for the Maine of our childhoods, but because quality of life is our biggest asset. To quote former Governor Angus King, we need to keep Maine "Maine."
One way you do this is by celebrating the people and places that make Maine special. Implicitly, that's the goal of every issue of Down East, of course. But after fifty-three years, the editors figured it was about time to go on the record with some of our favorites, in part because our friends keep asking us for restaurant recommendations. We saw this "Best of Maine" issue as an opportunity to reflect on the reasons we choose to live in Maine and to share those reasons in prose and pictures. We think you'll find lots to enjoy here: great stories, useful tips, and maybe even some laughs. But most of all, as you read our list, we hope you'll find yourself reflecting on all the little things that make Maine "Maine" for you.