EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — To its fans, the proposed 150,000-acre national park can help revitalize the Katahdin region.To its foes, the park is a long-dreaded job-killer.
About 175 regional residents attended a debate over the proposal from Roxanne Quimby family scion Lucas St. Clair. The town-sponsored debate followed an anti-park rally and comes in the runup to non-binding park referendums in Medway and East Millinocket later this month.
The four debate participants hit on familiar themes. St. Clair and Kristen Brengel from the National Parks Conservation Association pitched the park as a jobs producer and the National Park Service as an outstanding creator of business opportunity and environmental preservation with a 100-percent success rate.
St. Clair said he and his mother, entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, are investing more than $100 million in a park and recreation area plan that would create 450 to 1,000 new jobs while permanently protecting hunting and recreational access in that area.
Park opponents Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, and Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, touted what they said was the state’s excellent record as a land preserver and the forest-product industry’s vitality. They portrayed the park service as part of an aloof and uncaring federal bureaucracy that would rob forest landowners and the state of their ability to control development.
St. Clair said that never has a national park failed to produce jobs and prodigious benefits for its surrounding communities. Brengel said the park system brings $30 billion in revenue and sustains about 250,000 jobs nationwide.
“I hope we can all take the perspective that having a diversified economy and that the national park service is a fantastic developer” of opportunities, Brengel said, calling St. Clair’s proposal “a fantastic opportunity.”
Meyers and Strauch responded by saying that St. Clair’s foundation owns less than 60 percent of the 150,000 acres he has been advertising. The park cannot grow larger without displacing 64 landowners near the proposed park’s location, east of Baxter State Park.
Park supporters “have been up here for three or four years now, and I know that it has been cut in half, but it is going to be just as awesome as it was before,” Meyers said. “Meanwhile there are 64 landowners there. You can call them stakeholders, but what they really are is targets.”
Brengel and St. Clair said that the park service co-exists well with other forestry interests in several states and gave examples. Meyers discussed a family that owned land at the crown of Saddleback Mountain that he said suffered “five years of Hell” at the hands of the park service when the Appalachian Trail was built years ago.
The family, he said, eventually was forced to sell its land by the park service through eminent domain despite offering to trade 1,000 acres nearby to keep it, an offer the park service rejected.
“It was tragic,” Meyers said.
St. Clair said that park supporters ”are committed to ensuring that local voices have a seat at the table” as part of a local park management team. That and binding federal legislation will make sure that the park stays within a 150,000-acre boundary, he said.
“They want to make a vote about me, Roxanne Quimby and about the federal government and about false choices,” St. Clair said.
“A yes vote will tell people that East Millinocket and Medway are open for business and it will put people to work in all kinds of businesses,” St. Clair said. “There is no example of a national park anywhere in the U.S. that is not a success and doesn’t have a positive impact on local and state economies.”
Strauch said that Maine already has an excellent land management system of private landowners who comply with state law in allowing foot traffic through their lands to the state’s large water bodies. A national park would disrupt that tradition, they said.