MILLINOCKET, Maine — Seven northern Penobscot County residents, including county Commissioner Steve Stanley of Medway, will form a committee charged with opposing Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park, officials said Friday.
The Coordination Work Group consists of residents of the unincorporated areas and county towns. Members are Stanley, Terry Hill of Shin Pond, Steve Crouse of Patten, Mark Marston of East Millinocket, Cheryl Russell of Chester, Charles Pray of Millinocket and Don Dudley of Matagamon, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.
The county commissioners appointed the committee Monday upon recommendation from the Maine Woods Coalition and Conlogue, a coalition member who was representing the town council when he made the request. Dudley and Stanley were commission recommendations, Conlogue said.
Opposing the park “is the primary goal that these people will have,” Conlogue said Friday.
Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, said in a statement released Friday night that he welcomed the new group, and signaled what might be a significant change in the course toward a national park set by his mother.
“Elliotsville is in the process of evaluating the possibilities for the future of our property, with an emphasis on options that preserve access for the future use and enjoyment of all Mainers for hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and other outdoor recreation,” St. Clair said in the statement. “As we consider options for moving forward, Elliotsville fully intends to proceed with a new, collaborative approach that embodies the very spirit of northern Mainers.”
Quimby typically bans hunting and snowmobiling on her properties except when the snowmobiles are on trails. It was unclear whether St. Clair’s statement referred to uses that would be allowed on the 70,000-acre parcel as part of a national park or through other means; or on another parcel of Quimby’s land.
Quimby has discussed several options for her various parcels, including creating a 30,000- or 70,000-acre multiuse recreational area for snowmobiling and ATV riding. That area would be separate from the national park, she has said.
St. Clair didn’t immediately respond to requests for clarification after the release of the statement.
The Coordination Work Group was created, at Conlogue’s request, by Penobscot Committee commissioners on Aug. 21. Under federal law, such committees can be formed with local officials and can act as a voice equal to the National Park Service and any other federal agency which might come into northern Penobscot County to advocate for a federal park.
“In the vernacular, it gets us a seat at the table as an equal partner, not just as an interested party,” Conlogue said Friday of the committee. “We are told it [the committee’s authority or influence] is considerable because you have [with the committee] one government group working directly with another at the federal and county level.”
Millinocket leaders and members of the Maine Woods Coalition have opposed Quimby’s proposal to give about 70,000 acres she owns or will own to the National Park Service for a national park in 2016 and to create another 30,000-acre area for motorized recreational usage. The park would be adjacent to Baxter State Park.
Park supporters have said that a study would be the best means of determining the suitability of Quimby’s land for a park. A park could provide a vast new revenue stream for the economically depressed region, they say, and a $40 million endowment Quimby plans to provide, including $20 million she hopes to raise with a national campaign, would cover park maintenance and operation costs.
Opponents challenge the credibility of a national park study and are skeptical of statements made by Quimby and federal officials that a park would not grow beyond 70,000 acres. They say federal authority would infringe on local government and threaten the state’s forest products industry.
Conlogue recommended the formation of the group. He said that while the park effort might have fallen from the radar, Quimby has said she is prepared to work decades to realize her vision.
Some of the committee members are well-known. Pray is a former state Senate president. Russell is a former Lincoln town manager who serves as president of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Marston is an East Millinocket selectman.
Commissioners sent a letter to federal officials seeking federal recognition of the committee. Their response will likely guide the committee’s next move, Conlogue said.
County Administrator Bill Collins did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Council members praised Conlogue’s selections when he announced the formation of the group at the council’s meeting Thursday.