MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis will visit Millinocket on Thursday to discuss environmentalist Roxanne Quimby‘s proposal to turn 70,000 acres she owns into a national park, officials said Tuesday.
Town Manager Eugene Conlogue described the visit as “a listening meeting on the national park issue.”
“The format is for the secretary to make a brief presentation on the national park process followed by a question and answer period,” Conlogue said in an email Tuesday.
An Interior Department spokeswoman described the visit as a meeting to discuss the future of Maine’s North Woods, “to learn about ongoing conservation and recreation efforts in the state and to discuss how the department can best support those efforts.”
The meeting, which is being hosted by the Interior Department, will be held at the Stearns High School auditorium at 4:30 p.m. The public is invited. The meeting should end in an hour, as Salazar is due to fly from Bangor to New Hampshire on Thursday night. That will likely not allow him to attend a meeting Quimby is having in Medway, Conlogue said.
Medway’s Board of Selectmen will host Quimby at a town meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Medway Middle School, where she will discuss her proposal. The board hopes residents will attend, question Quimby and decide whether to support her idea, Chairman Bruce Cox has said.
Four Medway selectmen have said they will be at Stearns for Salazar’s visit, a Medway town official said Tuesday.
Quimby’s proposal has sparked a quick drawing of lines between proponents and opponents. Proponents seek a feasibility study of the park. Opponents don’t want one, but no great detail on how the National Park Service would handle a study has been provided.
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 the 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 over 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 Millinocket Town Council, 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, with Medway selectmen forming a committee that is pushing for the study.
Gov. Paul LePage has said he won’t yet take sides on the issue, although he has expressed skepticism about the proposal in public. Quimby’s representative has said that she is pleased at the early support her plan has garnered in Maine.
Salazar’s visit is part of his five-day tour of New England. Earlier Thursday, he will meet with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to highlight successful public-private partnerships and tour the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono. He also plans a stop at L.L. Bean’s headquarters in Freeport.
On Friday, he will take a boat tour of the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, participate in a Youth Conservation Corps event and visit an Eastern Mountain Sports store in New Hampshire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.