MEDWAY, Maine — Less than a week before environmentalistRoxanne Quimby returns to the Kathadin region to discuss her proposal to create a national park near Baxter State Park, the Medway School Committee voted 3-0 Tuesday to support a study that would examine the feasibility of her plan.
With members Hope Boyd and Christine McLaughlin absent, Chairman Greg Stanley and members Dawn York and Jolayne DiCentes voted in favor of the study.
About 30 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, school Superintendent Quenten Clark said.
“I think the feeling was positive towards the park idea,” Clark said Wednesday. “One woman in the crowd, who comes from Medway, said that she couldn’t believe that ‘somebody would do this for us.'”
Committee members felt obliged to get involved in the debate over Quimby’s plan because a national park might help offset the declining education revenue and student populations that have plagued the Katahdin region for years, Stanley said.
“Every school in this area is on a downward trend. If something doesn’t change, we will be out of business with the schools or sending our kids to [school in] another town,” he said.
Town leaders also felt that Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, and Millinocket’s Town Council, which is mulling whether to support Quimby’s proposal, shouldn’t be the region’s only voice on the subject, Stanley said. Quimby will be in Millinocket on July 18 to pitch her plan to the region’s leaders at Stearns High School.
“I think people are open to finding out information on it,” Stanley said of Quimby’s plan and the feasibility study, which he supports doing. “There are people out there who are opposed to it, we all know that. I don’t know if I want to point fingers, but the people I talked to would want information on it.”
“The majority of the [Millinocket] council are opposed to it, and the council, and I don’t believe Gene Conlogue, represent the entire region,” Stanley added, predicting that the voice of the “small group up there” in Millinocket would be swamped by people from the other towns and from the unincorporated areas around the region.
Mark Scally, chairman of East Millinocket’s Board of Selectmen, said his town’s leaders are also considering whether to oppose or support Quimby’s plan. They will likely wait until the July 18 meeting, following an invitation-only dinner at River Driver’s restaurant on July 17, before making a decision, he said.
“I have talked to our school board members and they said they have been talking about it, too,” Scally said Wednesday.
During a meeting on June 23, Millinocket’s councilors tabled a motion on a resolve that opposed the park’s creation until Quimby could visit this coming Monday to pitch her plan. The resolve appeared to have enough votes to pass until Councilor Michael Madore said he favored delaying the vote.
Monday’s meeting will be held at Stearns High School of Millinocket at 6:30 p.m., said Marsha Donahue, owner of a downtown Millinocket art gallery and one of the leaders of a business owners group, the Millinocket Downtown Revitalization Committee, that supports a study.
Close to a dozen members of the business group attended Medway’s committee meeting on Tuesday and spoke in favor of a study, Stanley said.
The group’s members had been angry that the Millinocket council was prepared to condemn Quimby’s plan without studying the issue. They rejected arguments from Councilor David Cyr that a study would only help make a park a reality, but also cautioned that, as a group, they had not agreed to support a national park.
“We cannot form an opinion on this until we have more education,” Donahue said. “We see an economy here that needs to diversify. The fact is that a one-industry town doesn’t work anymore. We are talking about a new future.”
Scally and Stanley also felt a study would be helpful.
“Let us hear what they have to say,” Scally said. “How can it [a feasibility study] hurt? How can that possibly hurt? Do the research and we’ll see.”
The Maine Legislaturepassed a resolve last month opposing Quimby’s initiative, which calls for her giving more than 70,000 wild acres next to Baxter to the federal government, hoping to create a Maine Woods National Park. She envisions a visitor center dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, the naturalist who made three trips to Maine in the 19th century.
The park would be nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Sportsmen would get another 30,000 acres of woodlands north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.
Mark Leathers, a resource consultant for James W. Sewall Co. who helps Quimby’s business manage her lands, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket, has not yet taken a position on a national park.
“Maine has a proud tradition of supporting our outdoor heritage, and I’ve long been supportive of conservation efforts that maintain access for traditional uses,” he said in a statement on Wednesday, “but right now, there are a number of questions about this proposal that still need to be answered.
“I’d want to hear more from the communities impacted by it. I’d also want to know specifically how it would impact local economies and effectively balance conservation with recreational access, local land management, and the needs of our local businesses and industries,” he added.
A majority of the Millinocket council argued last month that a national park would destroy the region’s forest-products industry and residential and sportsmen’s access to the land. They said that a park isn’t justified by the quality of the land Quimby has preserved and would be impossible for the federal government to maintain economically. In addition, they said park officials would threaten residents’ control of their towns.
Proponents said they feel that a park would broaden the region’s economy and give it jobs it desperately needs, with the East Millinocket mill shut down since April 1, idling 450 workers.
Millinocket Downtown Revitalization Committee spokeswoman Anita Mueller welcomed Monday’s meeting and a feasibility study as opportunities to present a picture more balanced than that offered by park opponents.
“I will say, and this is a personal opinion, that I am not getting any indication from anyone that I know or see on a daily basis that anybody has made a decision on supporting or not supporting this,” Mueller said. “I have only heard things that don’t seem to be relevant to me today from people who are in opposition of it. I would like to see another side of it.”
“What needs to be recognized here is that the Town Council can pass all the resolves it wants. It is not something decided wholly on the local or even on the state level. It is an act of Congress that will bring this into the future if it is deemed advisable,” Mueller added.