When National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis came to Maine this month to gauge local opposition and support for a proposed Katahdin-area national monument, he got an earful.
He has only to look to Acadia National Park for these 5 lessons for a Maine Woods national monument, proposed by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby and family. They want to donate nearly 88,000 acres east of Baxter State Park, and contribute and raise a $40 million endowment.
Over the years, we’ve hiked and backpacked all through Maine, along the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in the state, and in Baxter State Park. We’ve climbed all the mountains that are 4000 feet and higher in the state, as well as the 26 coastal peaks of Acadia on Mount Desert Island. In our travels, we’ve seen how Millinocket and other paper mill towns have struggled economically. And we’ve seen the hustle and bustle of Bar Harbor and other towns that have diversified their economy to include tourism and outdoor recreation.
While the Katahdin and Acadia areas seem worlds apart, these 5 lessons apply to both.
1) Jobs, jobs and more jobs
The economic argument could be the strongest in favor of a Katahdin-area monument. Maine, after all, is not called Vacationland for nothing. Tourism, plain and simple, is the state’s economic engine, and probably always will be.
Just look at the economic-impact estimates for last year for the region near Acadia National Park, and consider that a national park could have similar effects for the Millinocket area.
According to a study released in April by the National Park Service, visitor spending at Acadia came to nearly $250 million in 2015 and 3,878 full and part-time jobs were supported by that spending. The spending backed more than $300 million in production of goods and services.
With the loss of paper mill jobs, the region of the proposed Katahdin-area monument clearly needs an economic boost, judging from unemployment and poverty rates.
Penobscot County, which includes Millinocket and the lands for the proposed monument, has an 18% poverty rate, and adjacent Piscataquis, which includes Baxter, has 20.3%, both well more than the 14% for Maine, according to the U.S. Census. Penobscot’s unemployment rate is 4.4%, and Piscataquis, 5.5%, also more than 3.8% for the state, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
Based on comparisons to similar parks, a 2013 study financed by Quimby’s organization indicated a park of up to 150,000 acres could create about 450 jobs and maybe up to 1,000 if it attracts just 15% of the visitors to Acadia.
A Katahdin-area monument would assure protection of the open space that helps draw people to Maine in the first place.
While Quimby and her son Lucas St. Clair have expressed no desire to develop the land and are currently holding it for it for conservation, what’s to say what will happen in the distant future?
Opponents of their proposed donation seem to assume the land will always be protected.
Quimby wants to conserve the land and views federal ownership as the best vehicle to accomplish her goal. As long as it is legal, she should be allowed to do what she wants with her land.
Open space and clean water – and public access to both – would be protected forever with federal ownership.
According to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the land includes spectacular views of Katahdin, about 25 miles of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, including four spectacular rapids and falls, the lower reaches of Wassataquoik Stream, which flows out of Baxter State Park, the lower reaches of the Sebois River, and at least seven beautiful ponds.
3) Approval is simple
With the stroke of a pen, President Obama could create the Katahdin-area monument in Northern Maine from land donated by Quimby adjacent to Baxter State Park.
Obama only needs to use his authority under the Antiquities Act, a 110-year-old law that allows a president to establish national monuments from public lands.
In his years in office, President Obama has used his power under the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 23 national monuments, according to the National Park Service.
President Woodrow Wilson used the Antiquities Act to create Acadia as a national monument on July 8, 1916, only one month before he signed the law to create the National Park Service itself on August 25, 1916.
Previously, Obama has made bold moves to create national monuments in the West. Maybe it is time for him to do something similar in the Northeast.
Like Wilson 100 years ago, Obama does not need Congress to preserve forever a valuable section of Maine. He just needs to use his pen.
4) Opposition comes with the territory
In 1913, George B. Dorr and fellow members of the Hancock County Trustees of Reservations, which first received the land that would become Acadia, faced opposition from Bar Harbor residents and Maine legislators who wanted to annul the charter of the Trustees, according to Ronald H. Epp’s new biography of Dorr, known as the “father of Acadia.”
Then they faced Congressional opposition to creating a national park. Finally, they turned to President Woodrow Wilson.
Opposition also faced various attempts to protect the Katahdin region over the years, which Dorr biographer Epp also documented, in drawing parallels between the battles facing supporters of what would become Acadia, and what would become Baxter State Park.
In 1911, Congressman Frank Guernsey failed to get a bill to create a Katahdin national park passed. In the 1920s, before he became governor, Percival Baxter failed to get the Legislature to create a Mount Katahdin Centennial Park.
It wasn’t until Baxter became governor that Katahdin was afforded state protection. Later, as a private citizen, Baxter bought land in the area from Great Northern Paper Company and added to the protection, donating what became Baxter State Park in 1930.
5) Seek local input
If the old conflicts between Otter Creek and Acadia National Park are a lesson, it’s better to seek local input than to come across heavy-handed.
Otter Creek got cut off from the waterfront after John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought land along Otter Cove in the 1930s as part of his vision for the park. Relations between villagers and the park were further strained in the 1970s, when the park service tore down some families’ fish shacks that had been abandoned along the cove, with changes in the fishing industry and economy.
Recently, there have been hopeful signs of better relations, with the park seeking local input for improving and better marking two long-used community trails, as well as for a wayside exhibit about the history of the village.
Having local forums about the proposed Katahdin-area monument, such as the ones earlier this month, are a step in the right direction. But there are many more steps to take.