June 22, 2018
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East Millinocket school board weighs plan for national park feasibility study

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The school committee will be the next Katahdin region governmental body to consider whether to support a study of the feasibility of environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s idea of siting a national park next to Baxter State Park, Superintendent Quenten Clark said Monday.

The committee will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Schenck High School’s library to vote on the issue. Clark expressed doubt that the board would address the subject with something as complex as a resolve.

“I think they will just vote to support the study,” Clark said Monday. “I think they see it [a national park] as good for the area, and gaining more information is always a good idea.”

Quimby hopes to make a gift in 2016 of 70,000 acres she owns next to Baxter to the federal government for a park and has promised to continue to work toward that goal, which she termed a part of her legacy, even if it goes beyond that year.

The Legislature passed a resolve last month opposing Quimby’s initiative, through which she hopes to create a Maine Woods National Park. The park would be nearly twice the size of Acadia National Park.

Sportsmen would get another 30,000 acres north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.

Another 10 million acres of forestland nearby would be unaffected.

The initiative’s opponents, which include several Millinocket Town Council members, fear that it would be the death knell to the Katahdin region’s forest products industries. They portrayed the National Park Service as staggered by debt and unable to care for the parks it has, and say tourism jobs offer low wages. Millinocket’s council is due to address the question of a feasibility study, and whether to oppose the national park plan with a resolve, at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Proponents say a park would be an economic lifeline to the region, bringing in hundreds of thousands more tourists than does Baxter, without threatening the area’s traditional industries.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans whose support Quimby called critical to the park approval process, expressed skepticism last week much in line with opponents’. U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree have said they want to hear more about her plan before deciding. Pingree favors a study.

Snowe said a national park “would cause a region of the state to be governed by decisions dictated from Washington,” while Collins said a park “would most likely spell the end to the working forest that has provided thousands of good jobs to the area’s families for generations.”

Medway’s school board voted 3-0 on July 12 to support a study and has been joined in that position by the Katahdin Area Rotary Club, which voted July 20, and the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, which voted on July 19. The Medway board’s action motivated the East Millinocket school board to take up the question, Clark said.

“I guess they thought, why not? There are only a handful of elected officials in these towns,” Clark said.

Board Chairman Robert Leathers did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.

The East Millinocket Board of Selectmen will not address the feasibility study issue, Chairman Mark Scally said.

“We decided at the last meeting that that would be an individual decision. I just figured that people can make up their own minds,” Scally said Monday.

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