Navigating Maine’s nebulous subregions.[W]hat I’m writing you about today could possibly be a touchy subject,” began one letter we received last summer. “I get so upset when I see businesses across the state saying they are in Down East Maine. Well, in the 57 years I’ve been alive, Down East has always been Washington County. I’m not sure if this was ever made official, but I wish it was.”
A touchy subject indeed. Passions can run high over the imaginary lines subdividing Maine into regions, as they are not only unofficial, they are also fickle, situational, and entirely open to debate.
Just where the Down East region begins is the contentious granddaddy of examples. At the Washington County line, as our reader insists? At Taunton Bay, perhaps? Maybe even at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge? (The name of this publication refers to all of Maine and has its origin in a once-prevalent nautical term. See downeast.com/origin)
Or consider a question that periodically vexes Down East’s editors: How far inland can one travel before crossing from the midcoast into central Maine? Is Union on the midcoast? How about Liberty? Must a midcoast town be adjacent to saltwater, or does it simply need a few lobster traps lying around? Tiny Freedom, which Down East was recently ready to refer to in print as the midcoast, actually claims itself for central Maine on its town website. The Maine Department of Transportation, meanwhile, extends a midcoast administrative region all the way to Waterville.
Perhaps the state’s most visible regional breakdown is the Maine Office of Tourism map dividing the state into eight tourism regions. It’s a delineation dating back to 1962 and since adopted by organizations like the Maine Innkeepers Association, but it is not without its quirks.
“There’s been some real angst over it,” says Vaughn Stinson, who stepped down last December as CEO of the Maine Tourism Association. “It’s been very confusing over the years, because most states do their tourism regions by South, Central, North, East — something along those lines.”
Maine’s eight regions, by contrast, bear descriptive names like The Maine Highlands and The Maine Beaches. The latter region includes Kittery and the Kennebunks, yes, but also incorporates thoroughly landlocked towns like Limerick and Parsonsfield. To the north, the neighboring Maine Lakes & Mountains region stretches all the way from Bethel to the decidedly non-mountainous Lewiston/Auburn metro. (Cleverly, Maine’s tourism map sidesteps the Down East border question altogether, lumping the area into a larger DownEast & Acadia region, which begins at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge).
“One of my biggest struggles,” recalls Stinson, “was when people were on the border of something and didn’t want to be where they were. Maybe they felt like it’d get more play if they were listed in the Bar Harbor area instead of the Bangor area. . . . There was just no making everyone happy.”
If you happen to know definitively where the midcoast ends, where Down East begins, or where poor Lewiston belongs, please write and tell us (although we are still powerless to make it official).
Illustration by Christine Mitchell Adams