Roxanne Quimby’s inflammatory descriptions of Maine and the Katahdin region quoted in a recent interview with Forbes will erode some of the soft support she was winning for her plan to establish a North Woods National Park. But those comments, however impolitic, should not change the task at hand for regional and state leaders.
Their task is to evaluate the benefits of a park for Maine and the local economy. They should not be swayed if the woman behind the push for the park — and with the money and land holdings to make it possible — is offensive in her views and comments.
And to be fair, some of what Ms. Quimby said was accurate. Maine does have an aging population, the oldest in the country. Its population does have a problem with obesity. And its rural economy holds limited opportunity for entrepreneurs and skilled and educated workers.
Many in the Katahdin region make ends meet by cobbling together seasonal work in resource-based industries. Many rely on government assistance programs. That’s why Ms. Quimby has focused primarily on the economic benefits of a national park as opposed to touting the conservation coup that would come from protecting the forest from harvest and development.
Ms. Quimby’s view of the forest products industry is less accurate, though.
She told Forbes the “tight-knit group of industry people who own, manage and call the shots over ten million acres of land” in the region have over-harvested trees “to the point where the mills in the area have been unable to stay competitive.” That assertion doesn’t ring true with recent a study that showed the state’s forests are actually underharvested. It also glosses over the complex global market dynamics that affect the paper and lumber businesses.
Ms. Quimby’s comments are reminiscent of candidate Barack Obama’s remarks about rural Americans clinging to their guns and their religion. They suggested the candidate held a patronizing, condescending view of rural residents. The same might be concluded about Ms. Quimby.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, an ardent park opponent, said Ms. Quimby’s comments to Forbes suggested she “holds the people of this area in total disregard. She makes the people subservient to her goals of establishing her legacy with the national park and at the expense of the majority of the people in this region.”
The second part of that statement, that Ms. Quimby wants to make residents “subservient” to her goals, is as hyperbolic as Ms. Quimby’s comments. And this sort of remark reveals that park opponents will use this flap to bury the proposal rather than build logical and factual arguments against it.
John D. Rockefeller, George Dorr and Charlies Eliot, whose philanthropy and vision created Acadia National Park, held views that were out of step with their contemporary, working-class neighbors on Mount Desert Island. One example is Mr. Rockefeller’s disdain for the automobile, which, for 75 years, has been the primary mode of transportation that brings people to the island.
Surely those men’s views were not part of the calculus that persuaded Mainers to embrace the national park that draws 2.5 million visitors each year. The same dispassionate analysis should rule the North Woods park decision.