The Penobscot River is the heart of the cultural identity of the Penobscot Nation. We have been the caretakers of this great watershed since time immemorial, and we consider that responsibility to be a very serious priority for our tribe.
The people of the Penobscot Nation have traveled through and used the natural resources of the Penobscot watershed from its headwaters to the sea for centuries. The East Branch of the Penobscot, flowing out of Grand Lake Matagamon is one of the two major branches of the Penobscot.
For that reason, I was very pleased to learn about the proposed national park and national recreation area east of Baxter State Park. About 25 miles of the East Branch of the Penobscot River would flow through the middle of the national park and recreation area. The proposed national park and recreation area also includes long stretches of Wassataquoik Stream (which in the Penobscot language means “place where they spear fish”) and the Sebois River, both of which, along with the East Branch, have been major travel corridors for our people for many generations.
Even today, tribal members use all three of these waterways for paddling and fishing, including guiding others, to appreciate the beauty and wildlife that is sacred to our culture as a riverine tribe.
Designation of about 150,000 acres of land surrounding these rivers as a national park and national recreation area would ensure that these lands and waters are protected permanently. Tribal members, as well as all residents and visitors to Maine, would be able to paddle and fish the entire area forever. In addition, the national recreation area would ensure that hunting and snowmobiling also can continue forever in that area.
Elliotsville Plantation Inc., a private foundation, is proposing to donate these lands as a national park and national recreation area. In addition, Elliotsville Plantation Inc. is proposing to establish a $40 million endowment, the income from which would be used to maintain and operate the park.
Residents of the Katahdin region and tribal members alike would benefit, not only from the long-term protection of the lands surrounding the rivers but from the economic activity that a new national park and national recreation area would bring to the greater Bangor and Katahdin regions. Visitors coming to Acadia would have a reason to spend a few extra days to go explore the new national park and national recreation area in the Katahdin region. They could fish, camp, hike, hunt, watch birds and other wildlife, snowmobile and see spectacular views of Katahdin.
These visitors would need places to stay and eat, guides, outfitters, bike and canoe rentals, and a whole host of related services. They would look for galleries and historical sites to visit while there. Others would be attracted to move to the area by the existence of a national park and recreation area, bringing needed year-round residents to the communities. Those year-round residents will provide children for the schools, shop at local stores and use local services such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, doctors and accountants. Economists have calculated that the proposed national park and recreation area could create more than 450 jobs in the region — jobs that are sorely needed.
In order to establish a new national park and national recreation area, Congress must pass a law. Because the establishment of a new national park and national recreation area would provide permanent protection to an area sacred to the Penobscot Nation and, at the same time, provide needed economic activity to the region, I urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to introduce a bill in Congress to establish the new national park and national recreation area along the East Branch of the Penobscot River as soon as possible.
Kirk Francis is chief of the Penobscot Nation.