TOWNSHIP 3 INDIAN PURCHASE, Maine – Opponents of Lucas St. Clair’s proposed North Woods national state park hosted an informational session on Wednesday that offered an at times scathing dismissal of his proposal.
With St. Clair in the audience, speakers that included representatives from the Maine Snowmobile Association, Preserve Maine Traditions and Maine Woods Coalition dismissed the park proposal’s economics as unrealistic and based on faulty comparisons. They said the park proposal was vague, would grow much larger than 150,000 acres, choke off snowmobile access, and be run by an autocratic National Park Service that cannot afford the parks it presently manages.
“The economic numbers do not make sense. This park will not happen,” said Andrew Young, a Preserve Maine Traditions member. “There is no money to make it happen.”
St. Clair said he could not count the number of wrong facts and figures in the presentations, but that it was vast. As an example, he said, the economic studies done on the park’s effect were peer reviewed, and approved, by the state’s former economist and a University of Maine forest products professor.
“There were a lot of opinions and assumptions made,” St. Clair said.
As proposed by St. Clair, a 75,000-acre national park and a 75,000-acre recreation area would be created on land east of Baxter State Park as a donation to the National Park Service. Proponents said a park would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills and coexist with existing industries.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with tighter air-quality restrictions, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2-million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s.
Those are the short versions of the arguments both sides labored over during the two-hour meeting at the Northern Timber Cruisers clubhouse just outside Millinocket. About 75 people attended, the event, which was hosted by the coalition. There was seldom agreement, and the arguments from both sides plunged deeply into the region’s history, to the efficiency of the park service and into personal experiences.
Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association executive director, said that national parks are lousy for snowmobiles. He said that over the last several years, snowmobilers around Yellowstone National Park have spent $6 million defending their trail rights, and the park limits traffic to a mere 400 sleds per day.
Maine’s 14,000 miles of trails “rely almost entirely on private landowners,” Meyers said.
“We need to keep them whole. Any [federal] park regulations that come into being can hinder that seriously. We feel that we cannot let that happen,” he said.
Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, gave no examples of looming forest products industry developments in the Katahdin region, but said people should not give up hope. Maine is actually a net importer of wood to meet current demand, he said.
“I know in this region you have had tough times, but I see a future where it can come back in a big way,” Strauch said.
Young dismissed the jobs projections as based on other national park areas that bear no resemblance to this area.
Town Council member Anita Mueller, a park supporter, said that too many opponents’ were making claims about a plan St. Clair’s mother, Roxanne Quimby, proposed in 2011, not St. Clair’s idea. Worse, she said, residents seem hopelessly divided over the proposal.
“There are a lot of questions out there, but somebody has to figure out how to bridge this gap and come together,” she said.