Click here to listen to an audio report, courtesy of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), about the following story.
Plans for a 70,000 acre national park in Maine’s Katahdin region are being put on the back burner while its supporters consider other options. Over the past decade, philanthropist Roxanne Quimby has been using her fortune to buy and conserve land in the hopes of creating a national park in northern Maine. But local resistance has been strong and as Susan Sharon reports, the plan is now a “work in progress.”
The founder of the natural cosmetics company Burt’s Bees, Roxanne Quimby, directed questions about the park to her son, Lucas St. Clair, who is president of the board of Elliotsville Plantation, Quimby’s land holdings company. St. Clair says the board still feels strongly about creating a national park, but is now open to other suggestions for managing its land – about 120,000 acres to the east and west of Baxter State Park.
“We want to make sure that multiple interests are accommodated,” St. Clair says. “And so we’re in an information gathering point now, reaching out mainly to our opposition and people that have been opposed to a national park, and try to figure out their concerns in order to address them.”
One of those people is Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. Meyers and his group worry about loss of public access for activities like snowmobiling and hunting on the Quimby lands. He says he met with St. Clair for an hour-and-a-half to discuss park supporters’ evolving strategy and describes the conversation as “productive.”
“I think they’re looking at a variety of options. I think they’re reaching out to people to see if there’s something there that people can live with,” Meyers says. “You know, I think clearly there’s still some very fundamental differences of opinion about federal management, federal control, federal ownership.”
Meyers says what he could personally live with would be a “beautifully managed industrial forest with some conservation easements” to prevent development, and plenty of opportunities for hunting and fishing and snowmobiling. Cynthia Dill, on the other hand, is disappointed that a national park may no longer be in the cards. Dill is the founder and president of a group called “Friends of the Maine Woods.”
“Looking at it from an eco-tourism perspective, the opportunity to have a national park is just so incredibly good,” Dill says. “So I am really disappointed that now we may have yet another area of land preserved, which is great – I’m all for land preservation -but what Maine really needs is jobs.”
According to a Michigan State University study, visits to national parks are on the rise, despite the nation’s economic downturn. And visitors spend heavily in local gateway communities within 60 miles of a national park.
Quimby has always touted the potential economic benefits as just one of many reasons to support her idea. But in an interview with MPBN last year, Quimby said a possible fall-back position might be a national monument – a protected area that does not require Congressional approval like a park does, and that can be authorized by an order of the president.
“A monument is a Plan B – it might be a little bit easier to do,” Quimby said. “But the gold standard is a national park where that democratic process is exercised, and I would like to see that this is a result of the will of the people and not something that our top official can sign into existence.”
St. Clair says there is currently no Plan B. He says he and his group will be meeting with as many stakeholders as possible to decide the next step.