LINCOLN, Maine — Rep. Beth Turner, R-Burlington, said after a forum Wednesday on a proposed 150,000-acre national park in the Katahdin region that she doesn’t believe that the virtues of the park would outweigh its flaws.
She and several of the 28 people who attended the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce event said that they opposed federal ownership of the proposed 75,000-acre national park and adjoining 75,000 acre multi-use recreation area east of Baxter State Park. They said the federal presence would threaten state sovereignty and the state’s forest products industries, and it would not deliver enough economic value to northern Maine to justify itself.
“The federal government is broke,” Turner said after the meeting. “We are broke. How can we justify taking on the expense?”
Wednesday night’s forum was a follow-up to a pro-park forum the chamber held on June 18 that featured leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair. The chamber is the first organization in Maine to publicly declare it would re-examine its position on the national park plan.
As did St. Clair, park opponents reiterated many points made since Roxanne Quimby went public with her efforts to create a park in 2011. They felt the park would force tougher federal air-quality standards on the forest products industry in the area and create low-paying seasonal jobs. They also expressed fears that the park would morph to a 3.2 million-acre effort proposed more than 10 years ago.
They cited examples of what they called federal government land mismanagement and overreach and feared the impact of the 150,000 acres being taken off state tax rolls when the federal government assumed ownership of it.
Former state Senate President Charles Pray said that his opposition rests on the state’s having “the mechanism to support” the land preservation, tourism and other economic and natural benefits promised by a national park.
“The existing process is within the state of Maine,” Pray said. “Control here would be with the state officials we get to choose, and Maine voters would have the ability to decide who they are.”
“A national park will change the area and the culture,” Pray added. “We stay here for a reason. We like the culture that is here. We like the access to the woods and waters. If you turn it into a national park, you will lose that access. You will lose that culture.”
“We stay here because our homes have no value,” said Gail Fanjoy, a former Millinocket Town Council member. “It really saddens me, as a proponent of a national park, that others would believe that I or others think that [a national park] is the only answer. The forest products industry fed and clothed me my entire life.”
Other park proponents said they found many anti-park arguments were based on anecdotal evidence or were points long disproven. David Irving, owner of Shelterwood Solutions of Lincoln, a professional forest management service, said the anti-park printouts offered at the meeting were “full of misinformation.”
“I felt like there were what I would call ‘scare tactics,’ because it took me two minutes of reading through their literature to find inaccuracies that would make us think that jobs would be threatened by this,” Irving said.
“I believe in the federal government,” Irving added. “I work with it as part of my job. I believe in our federal system.”
Echoing St. Clair, who was not at the meeting, Irving lauded “the opportunity to brand the Maine north woods” worldwide through the national park system.
A member of the Maine Woods Coalition, East Millinocket Selectman Mark Marston conceded that the anti-park group erred in using coalition printouts from 2011, when Quimby led the park initiative. St. Clair, her son, became the leading spokesman for the park effort in 2012 and has drawn some praise for his efforts.
Chamber Executive Director Will Labrie said the chamber would likely hold another round of pro- and anti-park forums as it continues to re-examine its position on the issue. No dates have been set.