MILLINOCKET, Maine ― Roxanne Quimby has another chance to sell town leaders on a national park.
Almost 2½ hours of discussion on a resolve condemning efforts to create a park ended Thursday with the Town Council voting to table the matter until Quimby presents her national park plan at a meeting next month.
With Chairman John Davis and Councilors Jimmy Busque and David Cyr dissenting, Councilors Richard Angotti Jr., Bryant Davis, Michael Madore and John Raymond voted to table the matter after debate made it clear that the resolve would pass.
An opponent of Quimby’s national park initiative, Madore proposed the tabling during a break in the meeting, after several residents and downtown businesspeople asked for it.
“Maybe giving them the opportunity to get more information is the right thing to do,” Madore said Thursday.
About 75 people attended the meeting, which was a display of the town’s opinion of Quimby’s effort and a rumination on Millinocket’s future. A town formed a century ago around a paper mill in the heart of Maine’s forest products industry lands, Millinocket’s greatest pride is arguably its papermaking history, though that mill closed in September 2008, idling 150 workers.
Some residents expressed hope that state efforts to revitalize the town and East Millinocket paper mills would succeed. Allowing a national park, they said, would signal that the Katahdin region was closed to such industry.
Busque called the national park effort “an economic disaster for northern Maine.”
“It would certainly destroy the forest products industry,” Busque said. “The only reason they want to have this national park is to start this cancer growing. We need to stop it. There are many reasons to stop this.”
The state government passed a resolve last week opposing Quimby’s initiative, which calls for her giving more than 70,000 wild acres next to Baxter State Park to the federal government, hoping to create a Maine Woods National Park. She envisions a visitor center dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, the naturalist who made three trips to Maine in the 1800s.
The park would be nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Sportsmen would get another 30,000 acres of woodlands north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.
Proponents said a national park could provide the region revenue much like that provided by Baxter ― money especially welcome with the April closure of the region’s last paper mill in East Millinocket, which left about 450 workers unemployed.
“You are afraid of change. You are not giving this a chance,” said Paul Renaud, a resident who owns the AT Lodge and Appalachian Trail Cafe. “You say there are all these things you can’t do [with a national park]. What about the things you can do?”
“This [area] would probably make a beautiful national park,” he added. “My wife and I are not against it, and we are not for it, because we don’t have all the right information, and I don’t believe you [councilors] do either.”
Busque and Cyr predicted that a national park would destroy access to lands that have been open to recreation and industry for generations and said the 70,000 acres is not very worthy of national park protection.
John Davis ― no relation to Bryant Davis ― said park officials would overreach and tamper with residents’ control of the town. He predicted that a national park would cost the area at least 388 forest industry jobs.
The National Park Service, Madore said, has a $3 billion deficit in its maintenance budgets and federal officials see that deficit doubling in 10 years.
“We can’t afford to maintain the parks we have,” Madore said, “and who is paying for this? Every taxpayer in the U.S., including those of us in Maine.”
Angotti and many residents objected to the council rejecting a feasibility study of a national park. They said a study would provide them with needed facts, while Busque and Cyr said a study would merely be the first step toward the park becoming a reality.
“I have seen a lot of things against a national park and I want to see both sides of the coin before I toss it in the air. It is a one-sided decision right now,” Angotti said.
A feasibility study “goes through the federal government. It is their way of affirming that a national park will happen in Maine,” Cyr said. “They use a feasibility study to help facilitate a positive outcome.”
Resident Wendy Polstein, who owns several businesses with her husband, Matthew, said that a national park could end the exodus from the Katahdin region caused by the mill closures. Cyr said that the tourist industry jobs created by a national park would be too low-paying to be worth it.
Rudy Pelletier, owner of a downtown restaurant, said Quimby should be given a chance.
“We really need to listen to her. We have nothing to lose,” he said.
Quimby will present her vision of a national park at a meeting at Pelletier’s restaurant on July 18. The council will reconsider the resolve on July 28 ― time enough, John Davis said, to allow residents to consider Quimby’s plan.