MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce supports a study of the feasibility of creating a national park near Baxter State Park, its president said Wednesday.
With members Deb Roundtree and Thomas Malcolm absent, the Chamber’s board of directors voted 9-0 on Tuesday to support the study, which board members recommended concentrate on three basic areas, President Chip Lamson said.
The vote came less than 24 hours after noted environmentalist and Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby spoke of her plan for a national park to about 200 residents during a meeting at Stearns High School.
“That alone would reflect well on the meeting,” Lamson said Wednesday. “We haven’t polled the membership. I will say that all the feedback we have received so far has been very positive and supportive for a feasibility study. As far as actually supporting a national park, we haven’t taken a position on that.”
Quimby hopes to make a gift of 70,000 acres she owns next to Baxter to the federal government for a park in 2016 and has promised to continue to work toward that goal, which she termed a part of her legacy, even if it goes beyond that year.
The Legislature passed a resolve last month opposing Quimby’s initiative, through which she hopes to create a Maine Woods National Park. The park would be nearly twice the size of Acadia National Park.
Sportsmen would get another 30,000 acres north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.
Another 10 million acres of forestland nearby would be unaffected.
The initiative’s opponents, which include several Millinocket Town Council members, fear that it would be the death knell to the Katahdin region’s forest products industries. They portrayed the park service as staggered by debt and unable to care for the parks it has, and say tourism jobs offer low wages.
Proponents say the park would be an economic lifeline to the region, bringing in hundreds of thousands of tourists more than does Baxter, without threatening the area’s traditional industries.
U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans whose support Quimby called critical to the park approval process, expressed skepticism Tuesday much in line with opponents’. U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree have said they want to hear more about her plan before deciding. Pingree favors a study.
Snowe said a national park “would cause a region of the state to be governed by decisions dictated from Washington,” and to Collins, a park “would most likely spell the end to the working forest that has provided thousands of good jobs to the area’s families for generations.”
Councilors agreed to table a resolve condemning a national park until Quimby could pitch her plan to residents.
The Chamber recommended that a feasibility study concentrate on three areas:
• The area’s qualifications for designation as a national park.
• A national park’s economic and social impacts on the Katahdin region.
• An assessment of the National Park Service’s ability to manage and maintain a park.
The Chamber represents businesses from the Katahdin region and surrounding towns.
The Millinocket Town Council is due to address whether to support a feasibility study next week, while Medway school committee members have agreed to support one. East Millinocket leaders are mulling whether to take up the question.