May 23, 2018
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We cannot afford a never-ending war: It’s time to find middle ground in national park debate

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Shorly after leaving Medway, paddlers get a glimpse of Mount Katahdin as they make their way south on Penobscot River recently.
By Kathy Gagnon, Special to the BDN

For the past decade, I have fought hard against a national park in our neck of the woods. The specter of federal control looming over our area, traditions and economic development options has been a huge factor. Fear of RESTORE: The North Woods has been a driving force behind my opposition to a national park as well.

This battle over a national park has taken many victims and caused numerous casualties. The area towns are dying and may never recover under current conditions unless we call a truce and try to find some compromise, so we may work together to rebuild and save our communities. We cannot afford a never-ending war.

As with any war, there comes a time when the need to end it and find peaceful means to a solution is the only viable option. I strongly believe that as long as this battle rages on, we will not see business or investors willing to take a chance on this area by opening a business, be it industrial or tourism-based.

The businesses that are here are struggling to stay. We need to turn things around and end the negativity that plagues this area in the news. It’s time to end allowing outside entities to take advantage of our situation solely to enrich themselves.

The state of Utah has millions of acres of land, which are owned by the federal government and have been entrenched in a battle of their own over the issues of public land use and management. This battle has led to an effort by Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah to develop what is being called the Public Lands Initiative. Bishop is also a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee and is the highest ranking official on the Public Lands Subcommittee, which is responsible for all matters related to the National Park System, U.S. forests, public lands and national monuments.

The Public Lands Initiative is based on the belief that conservation and economic development can coexist. It also holds the belief that “wilderness designations and proposals should be decided by those closest to the land and should also be accompanied with other specific, tangible benefits elsewhere; such as local or state control over one or many roads; designation of zones for energy, timber and other resources development; transferring lands to local control for a new park or airport.”

The initiative’s theme is “collaboration, compromise and creativity” and tries to build a common ground on which to create a land management plan that will allow state and local residents a say and participation in the federally owned lands around them.

This common ground addresses the needs of economic development, recreation and environmental concerns with input from those such decisions will most affect. While I am sure it will take a lot of work and collaboration, the initiative has already made positive progress in the land management dispute Utah faces.

We need to stop the unproductive bickering that has paralyzed economic development in the Katahdin region. Perhaps we need to start working on the problems rather than doing nothing but fighting and refusing to talk.

My reasons for fighting a national park have not changed.

But, if the “ground rules” for federally controlled land become more state and locally friendly, I believe I can find a middle ground with my beliefs to be able to compromise.

We are independent and creative people; let’s use that creativity to collaborate and find compromise so that we can move forward and spark life back into the Katahdin area.

Kathy Gagnon was born and raised in Millinocket. She lived there until two years ago, when she moved to her husband’s family home in Medway.

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