Caribou’s present past and future

    Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of an essay on Caribou throughout the years by a life-long resident.
By Margaret Kimball

    As the years passed and the change of government leaders in Russia took place, tension between the U.S. and Russia became less of a threat. With the stroke of a pen, Loring Air Force Base was closed. Much effort by local and state representatives went into keeping the base, but in Sept. 1994, it became a closed military facility.
After the closing, Loring Commerce Centre was established and a number of businesses came onto the premises such as Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Job Corps and other individual owners. These firms helped to stabilize the economy of Caribou to some extent.

In the mid-60s, urban renewal was introduced to Caribou. A grand scale model of what downtown Caribou would look like as a mall appeared on a poster in a window of the Aroostook Trust Company. The money to be given for the project by the federal government appealed to our town council, even though the populace voiced their view against it. Lower Sweden Street buildings as we knew them, came crashing down with a boom to make room for the mall. Traffic was diverted to one-way traveling around the square and did away with our one traffic light on Main Street. The original grandiose plan of the renewal concept never materialized and most of the occupancy of the buildings built are now filled with offices, not retail stores.
It presently is a fact we lack department stores and boutique shops. However, we can be proud to have other entities such as Cary Medical Center, Caribou Nursing & Rehab Center, The Wellness & Recreation Center, fine schools, an airport, a weather station and the Performing Arts Center. These are important to the residents who live here, but they don’t attract tourists to our city, perhaps with the exception of the Performing Arts Center. This is a fine facility that needs to be promoted statewide and beyond. We like to be entertained by big name personalities too. Let them know there is an audience in northern Maine.
Though industries have not come to Caribou in recent years, perhaps efforts could be made to look at other avenues of creating jobs and drawing tourists to our city. Why do tourists visit a place? It’s to see something of interest, something of beauty, or to attend an event.
One suggestion might be a botanical garden with acres of flowers, shrubs, and trees landscaped with a waterfall in a blueprint picturesque setting with piped-in melodic music along the walkways. A fee would be charged to enter the garden. On the premises would be a restaurant with a touch of atmosphere and delicious food with consistency being of utmost importance. The garden and restaurant would provide jobs and would be an added attraction for tourists.
Advertise, advertise, advertise! A picture sells big time. Why do companies and corporations spend so much money on it — because it pays and pays big bucks. The more a place, event or product is viewed or aired by the public, whether it’s TV, radio, Internet, magazines, newspapers or posters, a seed of interest is planted to want to see, to attend or to buy.
Visitors come to Midsommar in New Sweden, the Acadian event in Madawaska, the Junior Biathlon in Fort Kent, the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone, and to reach each of these towns, they pass through Caribou to get there. Why not stroll through a botanical garden and dine at the garden restaurant? Sounds good to me!
It would take effort, time and money — a community working together to achieve a goal that would benefit the economy of Caribou without polluting the atmosphere with industry fumes. Are we up to having this enterprise become a reality?
The river has great potential to be recognized also for its beauty throughout the four seasons. It would improve much of its appearance if the banks were cleared of its debris and dead branches so as to view the clusters of white birches that grow so stately and proud. Perhaps in the future the land bordering the river could be developed into a river boulevard of retail stores and restaurants? Oh, the possibilities! Why not think big? Isn’t that how a small town grows?
In closing, I should like to suggest that the “Welcome to Caribou” sign at the intersection of Fort Street and the bypass be relocated. When stopping at that traffic light, one sees the dilapidated former Birds Eye Snyder plant on your left; then the cemetery a short distance on your right, and then the railroad tracks. It doesn’t give Caribou a “thumbs up” to want to stop, see and explore what we have to offer, but to keep on passing through.