The debate over the potential of a national park in the Maine woods has taken on urgency as the National Park Service and White House have shown an interest in creating a national monument near Baxter State Park.
Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a nonprofit foundation started by Roxanne Quimby, proposes to donate more than 87,000 acres of land it owns in the area to the National Park Service, along with $40 million toward an endowment for the land.
Despite polls showing broad public support for the project, three of four members of Maine’s congressional delegation continue to emphasize opposition to the plan in their communications with federal officials.
The latest communication, from NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis, offers a sensible way forward to ensure numerous perspectives and concerns are heard. In a Feb. 4 letter, Jarvis encourages Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin to “lead this open dialogue about how best to protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region.” Jarvis, who has visited the area twice, writes knowledgeably about the region’s natural assets and need for economic diversity, as well as acknowledging concerns about changes that would come with a park service designation.
The three began the work Jarvis encourages with a November letter they sent to President Barack Obama in which they outlined conditions — such as public access for traditional uses and federal support for economic development work in the region — the president should incorporate if he plans to designate the land as a national monument, a potential precursor to a national park. The three did not say they supported such a designation and, in fact, raised numerous objections to it. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, supports the national park plan.
The letter from Collins, King and Poliquin was especially helpful because the two Republicans and independent have varying levels of support for the national park proposal. It was a major step forward for the three to come together with one voice and one vision for the land.
They should continue to advocate for their constituents — both those who support and those who oppose the conservation proposal — as active partners in discussions with the park service. Face-to-face discussions, not press releases and letters, are the best way to ensure a federal designation — if one is forthcoming — aligns with the needs of the Katahdin region and the state as a whole. Only by engaging in such discussions can the trio ensure their questions are answered and their concerns addressed.
Likewise, Gov. Paul LePage could be a more productive part of the discussion if he didn’t conjure up dangers that don’t exist. On Friday, the governor asserted he would protect public access to a parcel of land bounded by Baxter State Park and EPI land. That access was never under threat from EPI. Instead, because there was little harvestable wood on the state-owned parcel, the state didn’t maintain its right-of-way across the private land, said Roxanne Quimby.
“The [right of way] to the public land cited by the governor has never been denied,” she said Saturday, adding that if the state wanted to again use the right of way it would get no argument from EPI.
The proposed national park and recreation area, or a national monument, will not cure the Katahdin region’s economic woes, but it can be a focal point of its remaking, with benefits spreading to Bangor and beyond.
Maine’s elected officials need to engage with the issue seriously in order to ensure the best outcome in terms of economic benefits and continued public access to the land.