Kyle McCaskill: Plum Creek could learn a lesson from Canadians

Posted July 23, 2008, at 12 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 11:56 p.m.

Within a few weeks, the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) will decide whether to allow Plum Creek, a Seattle-based real estate investment trust, to develop Lily Bay as part of its proposal for the Moosehead Lake region.

I recently returned from a family reunion in Ontario, near Algonquin Provincial Park. I was struck by the stark difference between the way Ontarians view and manage their natural resources, and the Plum Creek proposal for Moosehead. When it comes to forward-thinking, sustainable development focused on the best interests of citizens, the Canadians have left us in the dust.

Algonquin Park has active tourist, youth camp, and logging industries. Nearly a million visitors a year enjoy the park’ s woods, trails, and waterways. Yet thanks to well-thought-out management objectives, it is possible to spend several days in the park with little or no sight or trace of other people. The farther into the interior you go, the wilder it becomes. In most parts of the park, silence reigns, except for the sounds of wind, water, and loons. This experience of the wild draws people to Algonquin year after year.

There are also lakeside restaurants, marinas, hotels, fast-food chains, trendy shops, and a resort with a golf course — outside of Algonquin Park in bustling Huntsville, where 18,000 people live and work. Huntsville has its own management plan, focused on sustainable development, local employment, and zoning that clearly separates the town from wilderness recreation areas.

How has the Ontario provincial government managed to preserve the Algonquin wilderness while promoting tourism and economic growth? By doing just that: managing. The Ontario park system is the result of a comprehensive planning and management process built on the belief that the job of a government is to protect the best interests of the greatest numbers of its citizens.

In Ontario, access to outdoor recreation is viewed as a citizen’ s right. People expect their government to protect the special features of their province from land speculators. In the words of one Ontario premier, “the future is for people & not for profits.” Natural areas are routinely assessed in terms of biological diversity geologic features historical, archaeological, and aesthetic value surrounding development economics and tourism, and the province’ s “leisure needs.”

in their 2005 document, “Strategic Directions,” the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources emphasizes the link between ecological and economic sustainability: “Under the concept of sustainable development, Ontario’ s natural resources constitute natural ‘ capital’ . . . . Ontario’ s rich natural bounty contributes to our identity and the quality of life that we enjoy, and provides the province with an important competitive advantage.” [italics added].

Here in Maine, in contrast, we have the Plum Creek plan, which favors the short-term competitive advantage of the few over the long-term competitive advantage of the many. Instead of a plan that integrates new with existing development, what will Maine get? The transformation of 1,800 acres of natural beauty at Lily Bay into a resort, marina, golf course, stores, roads and seasonal homes that most Mainers can’ t afford — 10 miles away from the town center of Greenville.&nbspAlong with this, some minimum-wage jobs and a pipeline pumping money out of Maine.

The Moosehead area is not a park in northern Ontario. However, the Ontario approach can be instructive. LURC is charged with planning and zoning for approximately half of Maine. It has a responsibility to engage in strategic visioning for the state, and it’ s the only agency we have to prevent outside interests from reshaping the Maine woods to suit their needs. We have an opportunity to ensure that the Moosehead area is developed in a way that capitalizes on its rare qualities rather than destroying them.

As the authors of the Brookings Institution report “Charting Maine’s Future” so clearly understood, the Moosehead region embodies a special, remote quality of place that is the “Maine brand,” a quality that the Plum Creek planners clearly do not understand or value, and will mar irreparably.

I have lived and worked in the Moosehead area, and spent a decade running sporting camps in the Maine woods. I learned how hard it is to carve a living out of this part of the state — and why Plum Creek’ s plan for Lily Bay isn’ t the answer. I learned quite specifically what draws visitors to the woods of Maine. They come to escape sprawl and development. They come to be able to hear nothing but the wind, the water, and the loons. They come because it feels wild and touches something primal inside of them. They are the kind of people who come because they feel that it brings out their best selves.

Who will come to Plum Creek’ s Moosehead?

Kyle McCaskill lives and works in Orono.

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