HOULTON, Maine — Aroostook County lost more people than any other Maine county over the last decade, according to the most recent U.S. census.
The County lost about 4,700 people during that time, down to a little more than 67,000 people, representing a 7.1 percent decrease in population. Though some smaller communities in The County reported a population growth, every town or city in Aroostook with a population higher than 1,500 people saw a decline over the past decade.
The town with the biggest decline by far was Limestone, home of the former Loring Air Force base. It went from having approximately 2,300 people in 2010 to around 1,500 in 2020 — a more than 34 percent decrease. In 1990, the last census before the Air Force base closed, the town had a population approaching 10,000 people.
The declining population and loss of younger people in Aroostook has created a shortage of workers in vital positions such as police and ambulance services, as well as in town government. Bud Finch, the town manager for Limestone, said the issues existed not just in his town, but in many places across Aroostook.
“There’s a number of towns that have cut back. They don’t have police departments because there’s not enough police officers to go around, and the same for volunteer fire services,” Finch said. “The young people are not getting into it as much as they did generations ago.”
Finch said the solution for shrinking community services is to have more regional efforts among rural communities. An example of that is the creation of a regional ambulance service in central Aroostook for numerous communities. Plans are underway for the creation of a similar regional service among southern Aroostook towns.
The percentage of population decline among the major locations varies. Houlton only recorded a drop of 1.1 percent, while Presque Isle and Caribou both saw their population fall by more than 9.2 percent. In the St. John Valley, Fort Kent saw only a small decline of 0.7 percent, while Madawaska had a more significant dropoff of 4.1 percent.
Not only is The County’s population declining, it’s also getting older. In 2010, there were 14,384 people younger than 18 in Aroostook County. As of the 2020 Census, there were 12,764 people who met that criteria. Younger generations may also leave Aroostook to look for work elsewhere, and the average family size for younger generations has decreased.
An increasingly graying population has led to providing more services for seniors in Aroostook. Joy Barresi Saucier, executive director for the Aroostook Agency on Aging, said that the number of available caregivers for older people in Aroostook has declined as the population has aged.
“There used to be seven younger people to care for every older person, but I believe that nationally it’s down to just three caregivers for every person that needs it,” Saucier said. “In Aroostook we’re probably under that number, because the other numbers trend that way.”
The agency has seen an increase in its services in recent years, particularly since the pandemic, doubling its meal delivery service and setting up more virtual services for seniors.
“People want to continue to live in their home as well as live in their home community,” Saucier said. “That means we need to do more to support them.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Caribou in the feature photo.