Like the Katahdin region, the proposal to create a national park has changed a lot in the last few years and with it, people’s opinions, including mine.
I graduated from Katahdin High School, attended college in Presque Isle, and now I am blessed to live in Patten with my family. I haven’t always supported the proposal to create a national park east of Baxter, but then, the proposal didn’t always look the way it does today. Originally, there was no allowance for some of the things we enjoy, value and earn a living from.
The land and activities that make up Maine’s North Woods are as much a part of us as we are of them. This land has shaped us through generations that built our communities. Many, throughout those generations, have used the land in question as though it were our own because in some ways, it was, despite what you may find on a piece of paper at the registry of deeds.
But those deeds, and the changes made to them over the past few decades, are important. The paper companies left our communities. And they took with them something many of us never imagined could be taken; the certainty of our economic well-being.
Since the paper industry left, much of the land it previously owned has changed hands, often multiple times, and it will continue to do so. Along with these changes to the vast wilderness that surrounds our communities, our towns themselves have changed drastically.
Our challenge is to understand and accept that change has happened and will continue, and to shape change rather than try to fight it. It’s the trees that bend who survive. Rocks are carved and shaped by the consistency of change in the river flowing between them. But the river is still contained and guided. We must understand this principle and embrace the fact that, while change is constant, it can be managed and channeled.
Many people around Maine understand these simple truths. We understand that things are not as they were, whether in our economies or our forests. This is one of the reasons the majority of Mainers and specifically, 67 percent of us in the 2nd Congressional District, have embraced Elliotsville Plantation Inc.’s generous offer to donate its 87,500 acres as a national monument. Another reason may be the unprecedented $40 million endowment EPI has pledged to help pay for operations of the monument or park.
Supporters expressed our collective will on Monday when hundreds of people from every corner of Maine came to Sen. Angus King’s public meeting with National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. We held signs, wore T-shirts, and waited in line to speak in favor of creation of the Maine Woods National Monument.
People around Maine understand what lots of us in the Katahdin region know. Timber should, and will, remain important to our region and the state. However, we have something millions of people lack, but crave. We have true wilderness, the infrastructure to get people into it and the experience to help them enjoy it. We have breathtaking views, rivers and lakes to paddle and fish, wildlife to see and hunt, and quiet. And, despite our struggles, we still have incredible communities for people to visit and ultimately resettle in.
To his credit, Lucas St. Clair has worked with people here who know this land and what we need in our communities. That’s why this proposal has changed over time to include guarantees about snowmobiling and hunting. It’s why EPI encourages visitors to patronize local businesses.
Now we should work with them to embrace the undeniable potential of a national monument as a first step toward a national park and recreation area. Having a national park on our doorstep is just about the closest we’ll get to a golden opportunity, though not without challenges.
But people in these communities don’t shy away from challenges; we’ve had our share. Our challenge is not to fight this unbelievable opportunity but to work with EPI, the National Park Service and King, who has emerged as a thoughtful leader on this, and be shaped by this river, all while channeling it in the direction we need it to go.
Richard H. Schmidt III is chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Patten.