Capitol Notebook: King, Collins should back North Woods park plan

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Among the latest volleys in the fusillade hurled by Gov. Paul LePage last week was a vow to build a road through land proposed for a new national park in northern Maine.

The land is owned by Roxanne Quimby, who seeks to donate it to the federal government as the basis for a new national park east of Baxter State Park. The governor, who opposes the plan, threatened to build a road to access state-owned land nearby.

It is just the latest salvo in a decades-long North Woods park debate that will come to a head this year as President Obama weighs a plan to designate the area for a national monument. A national park requires congressional action, but a national monument can be enacted by Obama, and could serve as a prelude to a national park.

In Quimby’s proposal, land would also be set aside for a national recreation area, where the “traditional uses” of hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding would be allowed. She has also offered a $40 million endowment for maintenance of a national park and the separate recreational area.

Maine U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, along with Second District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, are resisting the proposal for the national park, and thereby stalling a plan that could provide a needed economic shot in the arm for the beleaguered Katahdin region. They should get behind it. (First District Rep. Chellie Pingree supports the national park proposal.)

In a recent exchange of letters between King, Collins, Poliquin and national park officials, the delegation members outlined requirements for a national monument designation, at the same time criticizing the idea: “A national monument designation, however, would likely antagonize already divided local communities,” they said.

It is long past time for them to get on board, and the reluctance of King is especially baffling.

The Katahdin region has suffered an economic body blow, where paper mill jobs have vanished and housing prices have collapsed. Smart, forward-thinking officials should take action to help this area. A federal designation will bring tourism and full-time residents back to the area.

As Mainers, we know that we live in a place that is beautiful, and we can become attached to the traditional ways and slower-paced way of life that is our hallmark.

We have not always been good at planning for the future, but our elected leaders should help promote a vision that will adjust to the new economic reality that has challenged many areas of Maine in the last 20 years.

It is understandable that some residents worry about federal control, and perceived limits to continued timber harvesting or potential industrial development. But the state’s future lies more in tourism than the paper industry at this point. And a park proposal can certainly co-exist with continued timber harvesting and economic development in surrounding areas.

The creation of new national parks has often brought division. Acadia National Park, which started as a national monument, was divisive in its time. That park, which also celebrates its 100th birthday this year, is a crown jewel of the National Park System and draws many thousands of visitors to a region that now has a vibrant economy. And Percival Baxter was resisted by the Legislature as he sought to preserve the area that is now Baxter State Park.

A key challenge for Acadia now is the ballooning number of summer visitors. It’s reasonable to think that a significant number of these visitors who seek a true wilderness experience (which Acadia is not) would divert to a Katahdin area park. This would take the pressure off Acadia, while boosting the long-term economy in an inland area of the state. The potential benefits of this plan are profound, and our senators should lead on this issue.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

  • msscv

    It is not “baffling” why people don’t want to be controlled by the National Park Service. The NPS takeover agenda first promoted from Washington DC in the National Park Service Plan that targeted rural Maine has been overwhelmingly opposed for nearly 30 years. It is has been intended from the beginning to impose mass wilderness restoration to eliminate and prevent economic development and private property rights, not to help “the economy”. How could the rejection of this “baffle” you? Where have you been that you don’t know any of this?

    Quimby does not ow the land she claims to be “donating”. Over 60 private property owners and the state own over 40% of it that Quimby has trapped as inholders to be taken over. And her announced plan is to establish a foothold for the National Park Service to expand far beyond that. She calls her land a “seed” and a “down payment” for the rest. She allied herself with the radical Wilderness Society offshoot, Restore, almost 20 years ago to get around the public opposition by buying land to impose Federal control. It is not a “donation” at all; it is buying government power to impose an ideological anti-private property rights agenda.

    LePage is not threatening to build a new road through Quimby’s land. He is recovering an existing right of way to state land that Quimby has blocked to make it inaccessible. She does not own the right of way. Her National Monument scheme means having to fight off the Federal government to retain access, which is much more difficult if Quimby’s actions are allowed to remain a precedent.

    The controversy over the beginning of Acadia was a local revolt against the land trust for its heavy handed acquisition, including eminent domain power given to it by its cronies in the state legislature. The National Monument ploy of a iron fisted tyranning was the same as Quimby’s today. She has spent millions on a PR campaign and still failed to gain public support. The people targeted by her overwhelmingly oppose it. That is why she is exploiting her crony connections in Washington to bypass Congress, the state of Maine and her victims with a ruthless, tyrannical presidential decree.

    Before dismissing opposition to a National Park Service takeover as “baffling”, please learn something about this agency’s history and policy of abuse against private property owners and local communities across the country for a century, including its eminent domain condemnations in Maine at the Appalachian Trail and Acadia through modern times.

    • Millinocket

      Yup..the expert (MSSCV) has once again spoken…Never been out of the state of Maine except via the internet and this self taught national park historian is continuing with the fear mongering as our region dies a slow death. Sadly it is baffling how weak and ineffective our leaders from Maine truly are. They’re concern about dividing an already divided region is laughable best. Maine leaders have been touted for years for their leadership skills…where are those skills now? Oh! It’s an election year! Time to toe the party line and take the wait and see approach until the election is over. Let’s see what Obama does, then we’ll either applaud the action or recoil in prepared disgust. Lets’ all just wait and see…For over thirty years the paper industry in Maine has been in a steady decline, facing global competition, and trying to stay afloat while operating outdated, ill-equipped paper mills. All the while the Expert above fought against every attempt to bring something other than paper to the region and our well thought-of Maine leaders stood idly by, taking the now well known wait and see approach to economic development in Maine….Our I could be totally off-base with my critique…..I guess that we’ll have to just wait and see…

      • msscv

        “Millinocket”, who is part of the Quimby political campaign, does not want people to know why so many people oppose and should oppose National Park Service control and the dishonest campaign trying to steamroll those in her way. Hence the evasions and sneering attempt at deflection.

        • Millinocket

          No deflection here. If there was anyone who attempted deflection it would be the Anti-Park crowd who controlled the Millinocket Town council at one time and who wouldn’t allow the good people of Millinocket to vote on the Park. Please try to include FACTS with your drivel..You’re sounding rather lame after all these years.

  • EABeem

    Roxanne Quimby and her family have met all the conditions spelled out by the delegation. I believe Angus King does support the park plan, Susan Collins would like to but can’t and Poliquin never would because his Republican ilk view the federal government (of which they are a part) as the enemy. People would probably be happier if Quimby gave the land to Baxter State Park or even the state, but she’s not going to do so. Given the way LePage wants log and bulld roads, it’s probably wise not to put the land in state control. Nonetheless, a park is a good thing for Maine and the Katahdin region and national monument status is a good first step with plenty of precedents.