By Jonathan P. LaBonte
Mayor of Auburn
While I’ve reported to many of you the potential we have to attract visitors to our region, those living here often take for granted having two major rivers converging in our downtown and a spectacular public water supply like Lake Auburn.
But the rivers in particular weren’t always something to be celebrated.
Last week, I was asked to present a seminar at Bates College as part of the 50th reunion class program. While some of these graduates have had ties to Maine, more were from across New England and elsewhere in the country. Can each of you imagine the river in the days pre-Clean Water Act when they were students here in Lewiston-Auburn in 1966?
Many once described the Androscoggin as too thick to paddle and too thin to plow. Industrial waste from paper mills was added to municipal sewer systems discharging directly to the river as well. It was in the top 10 most polluted rivers in the country.
To stand in front of this group from Bates to share the restoration success of the Androscoggin and how the river’s rebirth has set the stage for an awakening of the community of Lewiston-Auburn was quite an honor. And to say the alums were impressed with our progress to date was an understatement.
At times the small successes, the incremental improvements may not be as visible to those living and working here. When taken in the context of history, one could easily call it a miracle, but for the reality that it took activists, community leaders, industry coming to the table, businesses and so many others to get us to this point.
And from guests two generations removed from college, I joined the Maine Water Environment Association as they celebrated Maine Clean Water Week by recognizing the winners of their statewide school poster contest. The backdrop emphasized my earlier point, as we stood in Veteran’s Park at the base of the Great Falls in Lewiston.
The Maine Water Environment Association is in its 50th anniversary year (must be a year for 50th celebrations), and they received hundreds of posters, which were judged for creativity, delivering a strong message and connecting with the association’s mission. Four young students from the reaches of Maine (North Berwick, Stonington, Bethel and Lewiston) were recognized for their designs and awarded a small cash prize.
To see these young students, along with their families, standing by the river on a beautiful late spring day was a visual reminder of how far we’ve come, even if these students weren’t alive to see anything other than this. It is also a credit to groups like Maine Water Environment and local volunteers Matt Timberlake of Ted Berry Company and Paula Drouin of the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority.
And as the weekend came to a close, our ever-growing Triple Crown 5k road racing series kicked off with the YMCA FitFest along the downtown riverfront and trails. While this event is yet another example of what can happen as we take full advantage of a restored river, the organizers took their environmental stewardship several steps further when they chose to move away from bottled water for the entire series and instead will make tap water fresh from Lake Auburn available to runners.
Much has been invested to protect Lake Auburn and to ensure it is a clean source of quality drinking water for our community. The move by organizers is a chance to showcase this natural resource to local athletes as well as the hundreds of runners that travel from all over Maine to compete in our cities.
We are fortunate to live in a community with abundant water sources for recreation, for drinking, for wildlife and just to enjoy its natural beauty. Just a few generations ago, we had nearly destroyed a number of these resources. Let’s all be sure we take the time to celebrate where we are, take the time to get out and enjoy what we have and take the time to continue the efforts of improvement for the next generation.