CAPE ELIZABETH — State Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, has launched a group called Friends of the Maine Woods to build support for a proposed Maine Woods National Park near Millinocket.
In the process, she has become a lightning rod for northern Maine residents who oppose the park proposal.
Roxanne Quimby, an environmentalist and founder of the Burt’s Bees line of personal care products, has offered the National Park Service 70,000 acres next to Baxter State Park to establish the park by 2016. If approved, it would be the 59th national park in the country.
Dill said Quimby, who donated $12,000 to Dill’s election campaign, has also pledged to donate $40 million to help defray the cost of park maintenance.
“This offer is something the state should not pass up,” Dill said. “It is an amazing opportunity.”
Dill said she did not meet Quimby or hear about the national park issue until a Senate vote to oppose the park in June. Dill voted against the resolution.
“I, like most politicians, raised money over the summer and Roxanne Quimby was among a number of people who donated,” Dill said. “It is legal and donations are a fully disclosed matter of public record. It has nothing to do with my views or creation of Friends of Maine Woods.”
Dill, who also directed $5,000 from her PAC to the Friends of the Maine Woods, said she has researched national parks, visited other Friends of National Park groups in Acadia and in Colorado, and has talked with directors of the organizations.
“Friends groups play important roles in education and later, in protecting the park,” she said.
Dill said the park would attract people to the area, create jobs, improve the economy, and raise real estate values. She said Friends of the Maine Woods and other groups are urging U.S. Secretary of State Ken Salazar to conduct a study of the national park proposal.
She said the Friends group has a Facebook page and a website to promote the proposal.
“The more people know about it, the greater the likelihood this will become a reality,” Dill said.
But some organizations have spoken out against the national park proposal and the feasibility study, including the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
David Trahan, executive director of SAM, said the park would eliminate traditional activities in Maine’s north woods and would prevent people who hunt and use snowmobiles from using the land.
“Our membership is made up of folks who use rural parts of the state for outdoor activities, and there is a deep history of hunting and having access to land,” he said. “The national park proposal is counter to that.”
Trahan said the formation of Friends of the Maine Woods may have an influence on southern Maine voters and affect the national park debate.
“I am not going to judge (Dill’s) actions, but I have heard that some people are irritated that she is getting involved,” he said. “It feels like this (group) will stir up the north versus south debate and will change the debate some.”
He said the state has historically had problems with north and south issues, and “this might open up that old wound.”
According to the Bangor Daily News, Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore last week facetiously suggested he would support a park feasibility study if the state agrees to build a nuclear power plant in Cape Elizabeth.
“It is the same urban-versus-rural debate,” Trahan said. “But, whatever side you are on, the debate should be about whether or not a park is right for the state.”
Dill said the national park proposal is a statewide issue, because the park would benefit the state as a whole.
She said even though she is a resident of the southern part of the state, her work in the Legislature has focused on the northern and rural parts of the state, including the bill that led to the creation of the Broadband Strategy Council and legislation that enabled the Three-Ring Binder Project to be a success.
“Leadership and moving Maine forward is not tied to one’s Zip code, but rather to having the vision and fortitude to fight for what is right,” she said in an email Tuesday. “A Maine Woods National Park will create jobs and protect a piece of America’s heritage. We all have a stake.”
Trahan said he respects Maine residents because they are able to engage in a civil debate.
“In the end we are all Maine citizens and residents,” he said. “Maine residents are pretty smart and we will have a thorough debate and be civil to one another.”
Dill said the first Friends of the Maine Woods board of director’s meeting would be held this week.