PATTEN, Maine — A group opposing environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park found that 87 percent of Patten-area residents called in a December survey rejected Quimby’s idea, the group’s founder said Friday.
Former Maine Senate President Charles Pray said the survey of about 10 percent of the listed telephone numbers in the Patten area’s 528 exchange asked the question “Do you support the proposal for a national park in the Katahdin region?”
Another 2 percent answered affirmatively. Nine percent responded that they did not know or hadn’t taken a position on the issue. Volunteers working for his group conducted the survey over several days, Pray said.
“The leading interest in the survey was to verify support for broadening the forest-based economy in the Greater Katahdin region,” Pray said in a statement. “Secondarily, to show the support, or opposition, to a proposed national park in the area that would be greatest affected by the national park proposal.”
Quimby, who owns about 59,000 acres in the area, seeks a National Park Service feasibility study that would determine the land’s worthiness for inclusion in the group of national parks and examine the economic and cultural impacts of a park upon the region.
Quimby did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Bruce Cox and George McLaughlin, co-chairmen of the National Park Citizens Committee — which supports a feasibility study — scoffed at the bias they perceived in Pray’s work.
“This is not so much a poll as much as it is a phone bank by opponents. If park supporters had decided to do a phone bank to other park supporters, we would have had more than 87 percent support for our position,” they said in a joint statement released through a spokeswoman Friday.
“This is a serious issue. We think a credible, independent study will show that a park would create more economic opportunity in the region without impacting traditional industry or traditional use,” the statement read.
In late November Pray formed the group TREES4Maine, short for the Trust for Responsible Economic & Environmental Stewardship for Maine. The group describes itself as advocating for a broader evaluation of Maine’s natural resources than that proposed by Quimby.
Pray tried to make the poll as scientific as possible, he said. He estimated that 46 or 47 people were surveyed out of about 447 voters listed in the telephone directory in the Patten, Shin Pond and Mount Chase areas.
Census information found Friday sets that area’s population at about 1,475 people, including about 1,200 Patten residents counted in a 2009 census.
The volunteers attempted a random sampling by calling every 46th or 47th number listed, said Pray, who noted he has a political science degree and 20 years of experience collecting and disseminating polling information as a member of the state Senate.
“I think it was done scientifically,” Pray said of the poll. “I did polling for 20 years in the political process. This is a poll of the people who would face the greatest impact from a national park. I am comfortable with it, and my interest is in finding out the interest here in a national park.”
Pray’s is the second poll on the park issue. A poll conducted in October by an independent, professional firm in Portland, Critical Insights, found that 60 percent of the 600 residents polled statewide favored a feasibility study of Quimby’s proposal.
On its website, criticalinsights.com, Critical Insights describes itself as an independent, nonpartisan public opinion polling and market research firm.
In its poll, Critical Insights interviewed 600 people selected randomly across the state from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23 and found that six out of 10 residents supported a feasibility study. The U.S. Census Bureau listed 1.32 million residents in Maine in the 2010 census.
“Support is most likely to be observed among college educated, younger (18-34 years of age), residents of the Southern or Central regions and registered Democrats,” the company’s report states. “Opposition is most prominent among Northern or Coastal residents and registered Republicans.”
Pray, who has homes in Millinocket and Township 3 Range 12, said he believes that people in the Patten area have the greatest stake in the park debate.
An entrance or access road to Quimby’s land likely would be in that area, not East Millinocket, Medway or Millinocket, where the park debate has been centered so far, he said.
Pray is not, he said, opposed to tourism or national parks. He ran his family’s sporting camp for 37 years and his wife served on the governor’s tourism commission for decades.
“I understand the importance of tourism and those people looking for something to boost their businesses. I also think as a political scientist looking at the landscape, that manufacturing is what the country needs to get back on stable ground,” Pray said.