The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has existed for only eight months. Already, the number of people who have visited the monument has surpassed the total population of many of the small towns near its borders. The number of winter visitors to the Mount Chase Lodge has doubled. Houses are selling in Millinocket, and a local motel was recently sold and is being refurbished.
This is real economic development in a region that sorely needs it.
This development and a sense of hope in the Katahdin region are in jeopardy as the president and our governor cast unneeded and harmful doubt on the future of Maine’s national monument.
Gov. Paul LePage, long a critic of the monument, is wasting taxpayer dollars to travel to Washington, D.C., to champion an ill-advised executive order from President Donald Trump and to testify at a sham congressional committee hearing next week.
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order calling for a review of national monument designations made over the past 21 years. He limited his review to monuments larger than 100,000 acres, which would exempt the 87,500 acres donated to the National Park Service by the Quimby family. The Maine monument also does not appear on a White House list of federal properties that will be reviewed.
However, the order also calls for review of monument designations and expansions made “without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
This is a theme LePage has been repeating since long before the monument was created through an executive order signed by President Barack Obama last August.
It is not true. Years before there was discussion of a national monument on the Quimby land, Lucas St. Clair, the president of the foundation that owned the land, began meeting with residents of the Katahdin region. Many were adamantly opposed to preserving the land through federal ownership. St. Clair met with hunters and snowmobilers who worried they would lose access to the land. He met with lodge and landowners who were skeptical that tourists would be drawn to a remote region unknown to most of America.
The plan to preserve the land was changed repeatedly as St. Clair incorporated what he heard during hundreds of conversations. Hunting is allowed in parts of the monument, even though Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair’s mother, is adamantly opposed to it. Numerous snowmobile trails cross the monument, one of only a handful of national monuments that allow snowmobiling. In addition, canoeing, fishing, hiking, biking, camping and horseback riding are guaranteed in the monument. They are written into the deeds that transfer the land to the National Park Service.
More recently, the then-director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis held two public meetings in Maine last May about the possibility of a national monument designation. More than 1,000 people attended the session in Orono, where the majority of attendees supported a monument. Dozens of Mainers spoke and many more submitted written comments.
In June, Rep. Bruce Poliquin held a forum in East Millinocket. When asked how many attendees supported a monument designation, about three-quarters of the audience stood up.
The forum followed a staged congressional field hearing about monuments, where opponents, including LePage, told two sympathetic members of Congress how terrible such a designation would be for Maine. None of those who testified before the congressmen lived in the Katahdin region. This is the same committee that LePage will speak to again in Washington next week.
When LePage tells lawmakers they should reconsider Maine’s new monument because Maine people oppose the national monument, he is wrong.
That’s why three of Maine’s four members of Congress have been critical of LePage’s continued fighting against the monument.
“At this point, I think the majority of the people in the area — not everyone, by any means — but former opponents have said to me, ‘At this point, let’s see if we can put it together,’” Sen. Susan Collins, who was not supportive of a national park or monument, said in February after LePage sent a letter to Trump asking him to rescind the executive order creating the monument.
LePage and Trump’s charade of undoing past executive orders that created national parks and monuments is only harming local efforts to “put it together.” If they really care about rural Maine and rural America, they will focus on bringing more economic development to these areas, not stifle the positives that come from land preservation.