With the centennial of the National Park Service upon us, Maine has the opportunity to have a new national monument. Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a private foundation, is prepared to donate its land east of Baxter State Park to the nation. The proposal has generated a large amount of public discussion, including a national conference Colby College held in April.
Among the speakers at the conference was the distinguished writer and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who professed, “Whenever I go to a national park, I meet the miraculous.”
When Williams voiced the idea, I was reminded of a trip I took with classmates to Maine’s North Woods. As we drove along the Katahdin Loop Road, I was thrilled to see my first moose and then three more. Throughout the day we also spotted the rare spruce grouse, countless deer and fox.
While stopping at a scenic overlook to stretch our legs and see the breathtaking views of Katahdin and the surrounding fir and spruce forests, I realized this was one of the reasons I came to school in Maine and why I love Maine. The North Woods is unlike any place I have ever been.
The same sentiment was echoed last month by National Parks Service Director Jon Jarvis. He came to Maine at U.S. Sen. Angus King’s invitation to hear from people throughout the state about the proposal to create a national monument with land EPI would donate. Jarvis told the near-capacity crowd — nearly all supporters, based on applause, T-shirts and stickers — that there is nothing like EPI’s land anywhere in the National Park System; it would be unique and is worthy of designation.
Like Jarvis, while in the Katahdin region, my classmates and I also visited the possible gateway community of East Millinocket. Some have expressed fears that a monument designation could harm the forest products industry or halt the return of paper companies. However, three paper mills have closed in 2016 alone, and towns cannot hope for the return of the industry.
After years of layoffs and the ultimate closure in 2014 of the former Great Northern Paper Co., East Millinocket has lost 42 percent of its population in the last half-century, and its unemployment rate stands at 20 percent.
Throughout the fall, I researched paper and pulp mills in the state of Maine. After interviews with mill owners, officials from towns that have suffered a mill closure and former millworkers, I was struck by the cultural and economic significance of the industry to Maine. When a paper mill closes, tax revenue and jobs are not all that is lost; the closures end a way of life. This industry is struggling because of declining demand, international and domestic competition and a host of other reasons that would not change because of a national monument or park.
Although the proposed monument will not solve all the problems existing in the post-manufacturing era of Maine, it would absolutely help. Independent economic analyses have estimated the park and recreation area could create between 450 and 1,000 direct and indirect jobs if just 10 to 15 percent of Acadia National Park’s visitors were drawn to the new park. Acadia is a magnet for businesses and tourism, and as David Vail pointed out, if just 5 percent of its visitors went north, it would be a huge boon to the region.
This year is the centennial of the National Park Service and the creation of Acadia. Maine, therefore, has a special part to play in this history, and Jarvis rightly pointed out that Maine’s history, culture and the land in question east of Baxter are things we and the entire country should be proud of and celebrate.
This proposal presents the possibility for the state to move beyond what Sens. King and Susan Collins recently called “an economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude” and toward a future where people would travel from around the world to visit Maine and its two national parks. In order for that to happen, we need King and his colleagues to stand up for this opportunity and express their support for a national monument to President Barack Obama.
Sam Lovell is a recent Colby College graduate with a major in environmental policy.