MILLINOCKET, Maine — Opposition from the Town Council to environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s plan to give 70,000 acres she owns to form a national park, or to a study of that proposal’s feasibility, doesn’t much faze her land manager.
“Right now my reaction is that the glass is still half full. The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, 100 businesses in the region, voted unanimously to support a study,” said Mark Leathers of the James Sewall Co. on Friday as he listed various Katahdin region governmental and civic groups that also supported a study.
“I would consider that the support we have now is quite significant,” Leathers added.
Many facets of the plan are still either undisclosed or undeveloped yet, said Leathers, including the location of the entrance roads to the proposed park, which would adjoin Baxter State Park if approved by President Obama and an act of Congress.
During a meeting Thursday in which councilors voted 6-0 to issue a resolve opposing the park and a feasibility study, Councilors John Raymond and Michael Madore held up a map of Quimby’s land holdings and Raymond said that based on what Quimby told him during a recent luncheon, the most likely park roads would go through the Patten and Shin Pond areas outside town.
Not necessarily, Leathers said. Roads could go through the Patten, Matagamon and Stacyville areas and through two points in Millinocket, depending on Quimby’s negotiations for access rights with other private landholders, he said. He declined to elaborate further.
With the park far from approved, it is far too early to say where access roads would go, Leathers said.
Quimby hopes to make a gift in 2016 of the 70,000 acres to the federal government 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.
Park proponents said that Quimby’s proposal would draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to a Katahdin region with a 21.8 percent unemployment rate — nearly triple the state average — shuttered paper mills, a dying forest products industry and no other significant investors apparently willing to put money into the region. The park would be virtually self-sustaining with Quimby’s promise to raise $20 million to add to a $20 million maintenance endowment she would create, they said.
In approving their resolve, councilors cited fears of damaging state efforts to revitalize the region’s two paper mills, which if restarted could employ about 600 people; of granting federal government control and tax-exempt status to the 70,000 acres and adversely affecting forest products industry lands; and of the park growing much larger than 70,000 acres.
Councilors joined the state government, Maine’s two Republican senators, Maine Woods Coalition and the Millinocket Fin and Feather Club in opposing or expressing skepticism about Quimby’s plan.