STACYVILLE, Maine — Some want assurances that no forest product industry jobs will be lost. Others hope it will draw people to the Katahdin region. Still more worry about forest fires.
The National Park Service started the conversation its officials want to have with stakeholders on Thursday as they embark on a three-year journey toward a management plan for the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
The conversation produced a lot of questions and concerns, but few answers, mainly because the event was a listening session, the first of four scheduled this month.
Tim Hudson, the National Park Service official directing the plan’s construction, said he hoped the conversations would lead to a monument everyone enjoys.
“A lot of things got said that we can sort out. Some of them strayed from the monument itself. That’s fine,” Hudson said after the forum, which drew almost 200 residents to Katahdin Junior/Senior High School. “Our goal was to listen and learn and have a free-flowing input. We answered just the basics.”
“We know that some people want a road everywhere. Some people want no roads. That’s just what you are going to get,” Hudson added.
President Barack Obama created the monument, a type of federal park, with an executive order on Aug. 24. The executive order assigned 87,563 acres east of Baxter State Park, formerly owned by Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.
The park service allows hunting by the public on the monument parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River plus snowmobiling in certain areas.
Park officials have established offices in Millinocket and Patten to continue to hear concerns and questions. They held a general forum in the high school gymnasium before audience members broke into small groups directed by volunteers.
Hudson answered several questions during the general forum. He told residents that the monument produces no property tax loss to the state. The federal government gives all states a payment in lieu of taxes based on the tax valuation of the land it owns, Hudson said. He said he was not sure what the annual payment was for Katahdin Woods and Waters.
The park service would like Maine game wardens to enforce state sportsmen’s restrictions on the land, as they did before the federal takeover. The deeds restrict baited bear hunting, but not other forms of bear hunting. No trapping is allowed on monument lands except for one parcel, Hunt Farm, which has a state conservation easement attached to it, Hudson said.
Participants listed both concerns and hopes for the monument in the small-group forums. The concerns were varied. Some residents pushed for timber harvesting being allowed on the monument land. Others sought to have the land preserved as a national forest, not a national park.
Hopes were that the park service would be a good neighbor and lead to a revitalization of the Katahdin region.
Scarlet McAvoy, a 32-year-old resident of Benedicta, said she “liked how the small breakouts went.”
“I hope we can bring some life back to the dying towns,” McAvoy said. “I would like to see an increase in school enrollment. We could use more students around here.”
“I worked in Acadia [National Park] for eight summers and enjoyed my time there,” added McAvoy, a second-grade teacher at Katahdin Elementary School. “I would love people to have the same kind of opportunity up here.”