MEDWAY, Maine — Town leaders have approved of it already and now they want residents to decide for themselves whether to support a feasibility study of environmentalist Roxanne Quimby‘s proposed 70,000-acre national park.
The Board of Selectmen will host Quimby at a town meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, at Medway Middle School, where she will discuss her proposal, Chairman Bruce Cox said Tuesday.
“She provided us with a lot of information on her proposed national park. I want citizens to review it, and ask questions directly of her,” Cox said.
“Citizens have a right to ask questions and get facts and make their decision. That is why we are having a meeting, to see whether the citizens get on board with a feasibility study. I want their opinions. I work for them and I want to know what they think,” he added.
Quimby hopes to give 70,000 acres she owns to the federal government 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 in June 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.
Opponents have 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 hurting forest products industry lands; and of the park growing much larger than 70,000 acres.
Maine’s two Republican senators, the Maine Woods Coalition and the Millinocket Fin and Feather Club have opposed or expressed skepticism about Quimby’s plan. Medway’s school board, Board of Selectmen and several Katahdin region civic and business groups have supported doing a feasibility study. East Millinocket’s Board of Selectmen has elected not to take a position on the issues, and that town’s school board deadlocked on a vote supporting a study.
Cox said he believes that Quimby’s plan goes far beyond the Katahdin region in its scope and impact.
A study likely would be done by the National Park Service, although several agencies can perform one, upon the recommendation of federal legislators. Members of the state’s congressional delegation have made it clear that they would not consider a park unless a majority of northern Maine residents approved of the idea.
Exactly how the majority is supposed to express its approval or disapproval, whether through a referendum or other means, never has been made clear by proponents or opponents.
Many details of Quimby’s plan, such as by what roads the park would be accessed, remain unclear.