Community Vitality: Taking stock for the New Year

By Karen Brace | Jan 28, 2016

We’re currently in the midst of planning for Camden’s upcoming Winterfest celebration and the U.S. Toboggan Nationals. This process brings to mind the vitality of our town. Festivals help keep our downtown active, contributing to our experience and quality of life. It’s especially important during these cooler months. Starting Saturday, the activities will get us together in our downtown and bring us outside when we might otherwise hunker down. Our events attract visitors who contribute to our economy (so critical this time of year). And, Camden’s town-wide celebrations make us happy that we live and work here. I’m quite certain there’s something on the coming week’s schedule to intrigue just about anyone! (

As with all community projects, festivals require the dedication of many. The engaged citizens with whom I work on Winterfest and Toboggan Nationals are inspirations. There’s camaraderie among the group, and we practice creative problem solving regularly at meetings. We all have different strengths and interests, and we know that collective brainstorming can get us through challenges. (I still use the word teamwork even though I’m no longer a high school coach.) Team spirit around this town is alive and well.

In this festival frame of mind, when it came time to write January’s Camden Connects column, I found myself compiling a list of things that we celebrate about Camden. Once I got a few thoughts down, I saw that the list reflected why I’m dedicated to my role as community development director. The list looked like an inventory of why I’m here and why I came back to this area to live following college. It showed me why I’ve worked in Camden for decades since, and why it’s been so important to me to raise my daughter within this community. The inventory also described to me what makes up the quality of life that we can’t take for granted and work to protect. To do so requires vigilance, diligence and absolute consistency.

Here’s the list I drew up. I think of it as a starting point. I imagine you’ll identify with several of the items here. From my observations, we integrate our families and ourselves into the fabric of this town for a reason... in fact, several reasons. See which might hold some meaning for you: (this is in random order, not according to priority)

— The tremendous education that is offered our students. (Thank you, educators!)

— Enhanced offerings available at schools such as Maine Media and the Bay Chamber Music School.

— Our rich marine heritage - Camden’s working waterfront, sea-going schooners, and deep sense of maritime history.

— How we’re home to retirees who have done and are doing amazing things in their lives.

— Innovation and creativity instilled throughout this region; the young people our midst.

— Contributions to our community of time and effort by dozens of service and nonprofit organizations.

— The fact that the Camden International Film Festival calls this town home. Through CIFF, Camden’s become an incubator for emerging voices in documentary film.

— Musical performances throughout the year — with two large, vibrant community choral groups in the area (Midcoast Community Chorus and Downeast Singers come to mind first) and entertaining performances at Camden Hills Regional High School.

— Local folk musicians like Gordon Bok, and our own Ann Dodson and friends.

— Great dance bands (two of my favorites will be on stage this week: Dolphin Strikers Feb. 4 at the Opera House, and Just Teachers at the Maine’s Mardi Gras on Feb. 6). In the midst of the coldest winter months we have hot Zydeco from the deep south at the Opera House next Thursday. Amazing musicians are around every corner, it seems, from here and away!

— Health and wellness resources. The local Destination Wellness Midcoast Maine organization started a few short years ago and now has 100-plus members. (It’s worth checking this site out: - well worth it!)

— The area is home to authors with new ones emerging all the time.

—  Speaking of the written word, the Camden Public Library enriches our community daily, with Amy Hand’s children’s activities and the incredible speakers invited by the library’s Programs Director, Ken Gross.

— On my list is the fact that Camden has become a nationally-known convener on foreign policy. Later this month the topic of the 2016 Camden Conference will be The New Africa. On their site (, look at “Community Events.” You’ll see that our hometown organization brings educational events to communities across Maine.

— The PopTech conference in October also brings international thought leaders together to share ideas at a level surpassed by none. PopTech, like the other conferences, includes students, educators and many more at no charge who are given the opportunity to learn from these inspiring speakers.

— And of course, there’s the great outdoors. Mountains, lakes, the harbor, Penobscot Bay’s islands, and more than 20 parks within the town's boundaries. Hiking trails lace through the hills, and local land trusts are adding to the network. The Camden Snow Bowl ski area, kayaking on the bay, sailing, swimming and boating. Many travel miles to share for just a few days what’s right here on our doorstep.

It’s is a pretty good list. For a community of around 5,000, we’re more than fortunate. I can see why we stay here, return here, come to Camden from away, and sometimes work two jobs to make things possible for our families to reside in the Midcoast.

The list is not complete without adding the sense of community that exists in our towns. You see it when somebody’s in a bad way with a health challenge: neighbors come out of the woodwork with support, casseroles and rides. It’s expressed on our streets when people smile and look up when you pass, and local children know to wave thanks to drivers who stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Here, people whom you’ve might not have met before hold the post office door open for you. Maybe that happens everywhere, but I’m sure glad it happens in my town.

Yet, to maintain this sense of community we should continue to foster it through dialogue, the way our event committees do. We can be confident that through sharing our ideas collectively, even when they may be completely opposite, we can solve challenges that face our town. When a community issue arises, let’s continue to keep in mind that the process of dialogue is the only way to come up with solutions.

I’d invite you to email with your own thoughts on this list of what makes Camden unique, or additions you may think of. Or, post it on the Camden, Maine Facebook page. You may have a list all your own to share.

I’d like to send a big thank you to the Toboggan Nationals and Winterfest committees for helping to make winter a great season in Camden. When Winterfest opens on Jan. 30, you’ll see we’ve been preparing for freestyle skiing in Harbor Park, community ice sculptures in the Amphitheater and artistic 8-foot snow sculptures on our Village Green. There are lots of ways to get out and enjoy Camden all year-round.

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