Something in the water in Bucksport

When the Maine Seaboard Paper Co. opened its paper mill on the banks of the lower Penobscot River in 1930, Bucksport became a mill town that, at one point, would employ over 1,200 workers making coated magazine paper for the world. In December 2014, the then-named Verso paper mill closed. Five hundred and seventy jobs were gone almost overnight. What would Bucksport become without the mill?

Three years later it is clear that Bucksport was, and is, much more than a mill town in Maine. This big, little town of 5,000 is alive and well due to an enduring spirit of can-do optimism.

Susan Lessard, current town manager, attributes the success of the town to the character of its people. “The town was overshadowed by the devastating loss of the mill, but after the mourning, you could take the pulse of the town and see that we were okay. Civic groups and local government worked together for the future. A spirit arose that helped make community our greatest asset, making anything possible. There just isn’t any ‘no’ in Bucksport”.

Hosting a lively downtown with more businesses in place than there were with the mill, a growing farmers market and new development around the perimeter, Bucksport has maintained a relatively steady tax rate. “The recent $200,000 grant for developing the mill site will be the next big thing as we stay the course and explore the possibilities,” says Lessard.

School Superintendent Jim Boothby also has played a more than subtle role, as Bucksport’s school system has maximized the need to create opportunities for students who might otherwise have aspired to work in the mill rather than attend college. Recognized in 2015 as one of only three high schools in the country to be honored as a National BARR School of Academic Excellence, its mentoring program propelled several students to prominence. Now, the school has embraced a fire-fighter training program for the next generation of needed fire-fighters — not only locally, but statewide — plus strong participation in an accredited welding program, as well as participating in the local vocational logging program preparing students for post-secondary certification as mechanized logging technicians, the future of any logging operations in Maine.

“So many people have stepped up to do so many great things in Bucksport.” Lessard continues. “From our new Film Festival, to the energizing forward motion of the town, we’re all just connected as a community. I’m the luckiest person to have this job”.

Clearly, there is something in the water in Bucksport — something that all of us should want to taste.