Talking up the national park: St. Clair answers critics, says proposal would create jobs

Lucas St. Clair speaks during a meeting of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Lucas St. Clair speaks during a meeting of the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. Buy Photo
Posted June 18, 2014, at 9:31 p.m.
Last modified June 19, 2014, at 4:57 a.m.

LINCOLN, Maine – Lucas St. Clair says if he were to turn the 150,000-acre area proposed for a national park and recreation area over to the logging industry, it would produce 53 jobs, according to a study by a University of Maine economist.

But the son of environmentalist and entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby wants to do more for Lincoln, the Katahdin region, and northern Maine, he told about 30 people at a Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday night.

St. Clair spoke informally for 1 ½ hours before a crowd that included a half-dozen people who opposed his efforts to create a North Woods national park and accompanying multi-use recreation area on 150,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park. St. Clair fielded several tough questions and laid out reasons why he believes a national park would be a good fit for northern Maine.

Reason No. 1, he said, is that the Katahdin region needs it. The closure of the Millinocket mill about six years ago and of the East Millinocket paper mill Feb. 6 have devastated the area, though owners of the East Millinocket mill have said they hope to restart it. No date has been set.

“It’s the end of a 110-year era in the Katahdin region,” St. Clair told the crowd. “It has caused many of the younger people to move away and created a tremendous burden on the businesses there.”

National parks create a wide variety of jobs, some from very high-profit economic sectors. The North Woods park would draw people from around the world, leading to more capital infusion and an end to the population drain hurting the area, St. Clair said.

Private studies commissioned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation that oversees Quimby’s land in northern Maine, indicated a national park would create 200 jobs directly and at least another 250 indirectly. “On the high side, 400 to 600 jobs,” said St. Clair, who is president of the foundation.

Elliotsville Plantation owns 129,000 acres. The proposed 150,000-acre area would be bisected by the East Branch of the Penobscot River near Baxter, with 75,000 acres set aside for the national park and another 75,000 for a multi-use national recreational area.

St. Clair gave no precise timeline for park creation, but he said Congress could pass a park bill for President Obama to sign in 2016, on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service ― a goal his mother long touted — and it would capitalize on the anniversary celebration.

Former park service workers who reviewed the land in 2010 and 2011 have said it would probably qualify with NPS standards. Present park service employees have been similarly approving, he said.

“Getting it through Congress is where the heavy lifting is going to be,” St. Clair said.

East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston and former Lincoln chamber president Cheryl Russell were among the park opponents in attendance. Lincoln resident Sheldon Hanington, who described himself as undecided, picked up an argument Marston made during the informational meeting.

“I have a problem with growing government because it never seems like it is self-supportive,” Hanington said. “If this moves forward, how can we sell this to the people who don’t have the trust in the government? In theory, it sounds good. But if you look at the other side of the coin, how much burden is going to be placed on taxpayers?”

Essentially none, St. Clair replied. The foundation proposes to create a $20 million endowment and raise another $20 million to help pay for park maintenance. Russell said she felt St. Clair should use that money to market northern Maine and its assets rather than create a national park.

“It comes back to the brand equity,” St. Clair said of his support of the national park plan. “We would not have the broad base of marketing that the national park has. There is not the understanding. We cannot recreate the understanding that the national park service has had in creating the awareness. It is something that resonates around the globe.”

Chamber officials scheduled the meeting as part of their reconsideration of the park. The views of those opposed to it will be aired at a meeting next month. No date has been set.

 

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