After the family behind Wreaths Across America announced last week that they plan to build the world’s tallest flagpole at massive park and tourist destination Down East, Debra Couture signed her whole family up to donate.
Though public reaction to the project has been mixed, with some questioning if the money needed to fund the eye-popping $1 billion project could be better spent elsewhere, Couture is among Maine veterans who support Morrill Worcester’s plan for the “Flagpole of Freedom Park.”
“I think it’s a wonderful project,” said Couture, a Navy veteran and the commander of the Maine American Legion. “I’m looking forward to going to see the flagpole in the future.”
The Worcester family is best known for their wreath company and associated non-profit that lays wreaths on veteran headstones and memorials. The idea for creating the park on their forest land in Washington County, they said, has been more than a decade in the making. They want to create an apolitical destination that is “part national monument, part historical adventure, part immersive tech-driven museum, and part architectural wonder.”
It’s planned to have a 1,461 foot tall observation tower flying an American flag larger than a football field, miles of veteran memorial walls, six history museums and a development with hotels, shops, restaurants and an event venue.
The project, a for-profit business, is estimated to cost at least $1 billion and will be privately funded. The family is seeking funding for building it through a “park founder” donation program, private investment and corporate sponsorships.
In exchange for donations, donors like the Couture family will receive free admission to parts of the park for life if it’s built.
While the flagpole was the big draw, Couture is most excited for the museums and memorials for every dead American veteran since the Revolutionary War.
But not all veterans are as enthusiastic about a park being built in their name. When the Worcesters unveiled the park plans, some questioned if there were better ways to honor service members than building a flagpole taller than the Empire State building near Columbia Falls.
Andrew Pappas, a retired Marine and member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Calais, thought such resources could be used to help to fight veteran homelessness and fund mental health and medical care.
“A billion dollars could go a long way,” he said. “How much are we going to blow on this thing and what benefit do veterans get from it?”
Even if a fraction of the cost for this project was diverted to a different cause, it could do a lot of good for veterans, Pappas said.
“Do we need to extoll veterans with a giant park or flagpole?” he said. “That [money] would make a difference.”
But the use of private funds for this is key, others say, because it’s not public money up for grabs. It may even help the Down East economy, said Daniel Sullivan, a retired Air Force veteran and member of the VFW post in Ellsworth.
“Washington County could use this kind of attraction,” Sullivan said. “There’s no taxpayer money so who has a problem with that?”
Most of the park is expected to be free and open to the public, though some items, such as trips to the top of the flagpole and the museums, will likely be ticketed. Tricia Thurston, Americanism officer for the Maine American Legion, thought the project would be a patriotic symbol that could help unite people.
“I feel we need this,” she said.