June 22, 2018
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Maine should hold its fire on North Woods park

A Maine Woods National Park isn’t going to become a reality any time soon. The National Park Service doesn’t have the resources to manage the properties it already owns and vocal opposition in Maine has kept the state’s congressional delegation lukewarm, if not outright cold, toward the idea.

But, rather than pass resolves opposing a look at the idea of a park — which the Maine Legislature did quietly this month and the Millinocket town council is considering — those who support and object to the idea should work together to figure out the best ways to improve the economy of the Katahdin region. Such an effort takes on added urgency as the future of the paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket remains in limbo.

Late last week, the Maine Legislature strongly supported a joint resolution, to be sent to the president, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Congress, voicing their opposition to a study of the feasibility of a national park in Maine’s North Woods.

Sen. Richard Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, was one of only three senators to vote against the resolution.

“Acadia National Park is one of my favorite places in the world, and ruling out another national park categorically without exploring it just seems premature,” Sen. Woodbury told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

Millinocket officials wisely decided to put off a vote on a similar resolve to get more information from the park’s chief promoter, Roxanne Quimby.

Rather than a narrow study of a potential national park, a broader look at the changing future of the region makes more sense. Such a review should identify likely areas of economic growth and the impediments to such growth.

The early work has already been done. The Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy at the University of Maine surveyed residents and business owners in Piscataquis County, the heart of the region eyed for a park, about their views of outdoor and cultural tourism.

Three quarters of respondents said they would like their town to become a primary tourist attraction. At the same time, nearly two-thirds said tourism provides only low-income, seasonal work and nearly half said tourism doesn’t provide the kind of jobs the region needs.

When asked what to do to increase tourism, residents and especially business owners, supported increases in nonmotorized activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing and kayaking over snowmobiling and motor boating. Interestingly, this would fit with a national park.

Residents beyond the region have long been supportive of the concept of a national park, with support ranging from 53 percent to 78 percent in various polls conducted since 1997.

There is plenty of time to debate — and research — the pros and cons of a potential North Woods National Park. Opposing the idea out of hand is premature.

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