You know it's summer in Rockland when the first Winnebago sets up camp in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Happy campers presumably make for happy shoppers, which is why the world's largest retailer permits RVs to bivouac outside its stores. I was unaware of this phenomenon until one morning when I drove past Wal-Mart and discovered that a village had magically taken root overnight. I won't say it was like wandering into Brigadoon, but there was the same transient air of good-fellowship on display, with the hum of generators standing in for the bagpipes and tin whistles.
The idea of campers exploring Maine by hopscotching from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart rests uneasily in the mind. If nothing else, you can understand how private campgrounds might feel threatened. Wal-Mart's reputation for undercutting small businesses — and its tendency to promote sprawl — is at the heart of the campaign under way along the midcoast to stop the construction of additional big-box stores here, as Jeff Clark reports this month (page 19).
Sprawl is also an issue in Greenville, where Seattle-based Plum Creek (page 58) wants to clear 975 house lots and build two resorts and a campground in the wilderness around Moosehead Lake. Environmentalists warn this plan represents the end of the North Woods as we know it. And yet, the region is desperately in need of an economic jumpstart. So what to do?
What these two stories have in common are the loss of Maine's unique culture to homogenizing forces, the elusive promise of economic revitalization, and the fear that goes with having strange multinational corporations determining the fate of your local community. It's weighty stuff — and all the more reason to seek solace in Maine's incomparable summer. One need only look outside (or flip through these pages) to be reminded of the beauty of this state.
Ironically, one of the better views in Rockland is opposite Wal-Mart. Seven years ago, the store proposed abandoning its current site to build a new SuperCenter on a hilltop across Route 1. The plan was defeated by anti-sprawl forces. But soon after, Home Depot crept in with a smaller store for that same hill. The exhausted opponents had no fight left in them. Today, the sweeping vista from the Home Depot parking lot takes in the Rockland breakwater, Owls Head, and the glittering waters of Penobscot Bay. It's almost a shame you can't camp there.