Geographically, northern Maine probably begins north of the 46th Parallel, but population becomes increasingly sparse north of Bangor, the state's third-largest city. Encompassing the fabled North Woods, the counties of Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, and Aroostook dominate the state in terms of area but have relatively few residents outside of the Bangor-Brewer region. Aroostook (aka The County) alone is larger than the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.
The three principal industries of this region are logging, tourism, and agriculture. Despite major upheavals in the paper industry that have resulted in mill closings and land sales of millions of acres, the counties of Somerset, Piscataquis, and Penobscot continue to bank on the industry's future. Logging is also important to Aroostook, as are potatoes grown in vast fields along the Canadian border.
During the nineteenth century, Bangor was the lumber-shipping capital of the world, and it remains both a principal entryway into the North Woods and its economic, cultural, and population center. The Queen City hugs the west bank of the Penobscot River, and just as its history is closely tied to this mighty waterway, so is its future, with a major development planned for the revitalized waterfront. Bangor has many fine homes that still stand in various neighborhoods; buildings of architectural distinction are also collected in the residential Broadway area and the West Market Square Historic District. The Bangor International Airport - boasting one of the longest runways on the East Coast - is located minutes from downtown. On the city's north side are dozens of retail outlets in plazas and the Bangor Mall that serve as the center of commerce for much of northern Maine.
Across the Penobscot lies Brewer, an industrial city closely allied with Bangor economically and socially. Once a center of shipbuilding, Brewer's economy today is reliant on the pulp and paper industry and manufacturing.
Just a few minutes' drive out of the Bangor-Brewer area the landscape turns to farms and woods. The only other sizable communities in the area are Orono, home of the University of Maine, the flagship state university, and Old Town, known internationally for its canoes and also the site of a Penobscot Indian Reservation and a paper mill. UMaine is the largest school in Maine, with 11,222 students, and its Maine Center for the Arts brings world-class entertainment to the area. The university has traditionally excelled in men's ice hockey, women's basketball, and baseball, making it a source of pride among sports fans across Maine.
Other important communities in northern Maine include Skowhegan, a brawny paper-mill town not far from Waterville; Dover-Foxcroft, on a diagonal between Bangor and Moosehead Lake; Greenville and Rockwood, which provide services to the many visitors to massive Moosehead Lake; Millinocket, a mill town just outside the state's largest wilderness area, Baxter State Park; Houlton and Presque Isle, centers of the potato industry; and Fort Kent, the commercial center of the French-speaking St. John Valley and site of a small UMaine campus.