Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to not take sides in the debate about a proposed Maine Woods National Park is the most rational thing that’s been done about the plan and its opposition recently. What the administration can’t stay out of are efforts to rebuild and diversify the economy of the Katahdin region.
The governor’s take on the park idea, as expressed through his Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley, is that he wants the discussion to continue before he takes a position.
“I think he feels that the dialogue is under way,” Mr. Beardsley said. “It is in process. People are expressing positions. The governor feels that it is premature for him to jump in and short-cut the process.”
The process is not pretty, but letting it play out — and gathering more facts to inform the discussion — makes sense.
Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees and long a proponent of a national park in the Maine Woods, has proposed to donate 70,000 acres of land she owns east of Baxter State Park to the National Park Service. She would also put money into an endowment to maintain the park.
To address the concerns of sportsmen, Quimby is also offering to donate to the state 30,000 acres where hunting, snowmobiling, ATV riding and other forms of more-intensive recreation would be allowed.
Ms. Quimby has asked for a feasibility study of her park plan. Such a study is a good idea, not as a first step toward a national park but as an opportunity for a region that has been hard hit by mill shutdowns to explore additional economic prospects.
Their respective positions are based on principled beliefs and a desire to do what is best for the area’s residents and businesses.
Beyond the local conflict, the proposed park should be of interest to the broader region and to all of Maine. Considering opposition and support from a broader array of interests is an important part of such a decision.
A national park is not a panacea. However, given the recent history of timber harvesting and papermaking in Maine and Millinocket and East Millinocket, where both mills remain closed, other economic opportunities shouldn’t be dismissed.
The LePage administration has been heavily involved in efforts to find a buyer for the mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket so that they can restart. So far, no buyer has been announced.
Gov. LePage’s primary focus, Mr. Beardsley said, is to find the best and most prosperous economic mix of the state’s many traditional land uses and the more recent ideas, such as ecotourism.
Exploring all options is the best way forward, with or without a park.