Commonly referred to as “The County,” Aroostook County is Maine’s largest county (6,672 square miles). It is larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, and it is the largest county east of the Mississippi River.
Aroostook’s cultural heritage includes French-Acadian communities, Swedish heritage, and Native Americans to name a few. Towns in the St. John River Valley boast strong ties to their French roots and in fact are bilingual. It is not uncommon to hear French being spoken in local shops.
Events such as the Acadian Festival in Madawaska and the Ploye Festival in Fort Kent (celebrating a traditional Acadian food, a buckwheat pancake) draw many visitors. The Maine Potato Blossom celebrates the area’s agricultural heritage in Fort Fairfield, and is one of many events held year round.
There also are numerous museums in the region, including the Patten Lumberman’s Museum, the Acadian Village, and the Swedish Colony Museum.
Maine is the most forested state in the nation, with approximately 17.7 million acres covered with trees. There are 4 million acres of woodlands in Aroostook County, meaning that The County contains about 23% of the state’s woodlands. This is important both to recreational opportunities and to the economy.
Recreational opportunities range from hunting and leaf peeping in the fall to snowmobiling and skiing in the winter, canoeing and biking in the spring and summer, and a multitude of community festivals.
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is popular in the spring and summer. Located in The County, this 92-mile corridor of lakes and river connects several large public reserved land units and is surrounded by a vast, privately-owned commercial forest.
Presque Isle was the site of the transatlantic balloon launch for the Double Eagle II that left Maine on August 11, 1978 and landed in a wheat field near Miserey, France (60 miles northwest of Paris) on August 17, 1978.
Fort Kent hosts the annual Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race every winter. The 250-mile race is the longest and highest caliber race in the Eastern United States, and serves as a qualifying race for Alaska’s famous 1,100-mile Iditarod.
Snowmobiling is another popular winter sport and Aroostook County has more than 2,200 miles of groomed snowmobile trails.
Aroostook County is the birthplace of Nordic skiing in America. In 1870 Widgery Thomas, with the support of Governor Joshua Chamberlin, recruited 20 families from Sweden to settle in northern Maine and establish an agricultural settlement. These Swedes then introduced to the U.S. skidor, or Swedish snowshoes, or what we now call skis. Since then, cross country skiing has remained part of the lifestyle of Aroostook County.
The area also is quickly gaining notoriety as a world-class cross-country ski and biathlon center. The World Cup Biathlon was first held here in 2004 and in 2011 the Maine Winter Sports center will host the Biathlon World Cup again. It is expected to attract 250 athletes from 26 countries and to be viewed on television by more than 20 million Europeans.
Aroostook County’s economy centers primarily on forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing, but has a variety of other strong businesses as well.
In the forestry sector, Fraser Paper, a manufacturer of quality paper goods in Madawaska, is the largest private employer in the region. Louisiana Pacific, a plywood manufacturer in Houlton, also supports the forestry sector. Houlton is the oldest community in Aroostook County and has a long history of forestry.
In 2000, Maine grew 63,000 acres of potatoes, which is 4.6% of the U.S. potato acreage. Nearly 90% of Maine’s potato acreage is grown in Aroostook County. In fact, Aroostook County ranks first in the U.S. for total potato crop acreage by county. McCain’s Foods (best know for its frozen potatoes) is the largest private employer supporting the potato industry.
Smith & Wesson, a precision metals manufacturer that produces guns and handcuffs, is the leading employer in metals manufacturing.
For nearly a decade Aegis Bicycles has been manufacturing custom made racing bicycle frames in Van Buren. Selling about 1,000 a year, each frame is custom made for the rider. The West Point Military Academy’s racing team is riding on Aegis Frames and soon the Navy and FBI will be on an Aegis as well.