EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — An organization opposed to the proposed 150,000-acre national park and recreation area will host an informational session on the proposal on Wednesday at Schenck High School.
Maine Woods Coalition President and Chairwoman Anne Mitchell, whose group is hosting the event, said she hopes it will draw a large crowd. She particularly wants to see undecided residents who will be voting in the town’s nonbinding referendum on June 25.
“We want to present some information that hasn’t been publicized widely,” Mitchell said Tuesday.
The event is designed to counter an information session at Schenck hosted by leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair on April 16. Both came at the request of Board of Selectman Chairman Mark Scally after the board opted to hold the referendum, according to Selectman Mark Marston, the coalition’s vice president. Scally wanted to ensure that residents were amply exposed to the issue before the referendum.
U.S. Sen. Angus King effectively revived the often-contentious national park debate when he asked Millinocket officials for their requirements for a park should congressional delegates write legislation seeking one. Millinocket officials revealed his request on Feb. 7.
St. Clair’s proposal includes establishing a 75,000-acre national park and a 75,000-acre recreation area on family land east of Baxter State Park by 2016. St. Clair’s mother, Roxanne Quimby, began a campaign to give 70,000 acres to the National Park Service in 2011.
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.
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.
Featured speakers at the coalition’s forum will be Maine Forest Service director Doug Denico, sawmill owner Jim Robbins and Preserve Maine Traditions member Andrew Young, Marston said. Residents who own land that would be near or part of the proposed recreation area also will attend and may speak. A question period will follow the speakers.
Representatives of Rep. Bruce Poliquin and U.S. Sens. King and Susan Collins have said they will attend, Marston said.
Mitchell said that St. Clair declined the coalition’s invitation to speak at the meeting. St. Clair’s spokesman, David Farmer, said that St. Clair has an out-of-state engagement on Wednesday and that coalition leaders were aware of that when they scheduled the event.
St. Clair is working with town and coalition officials to schedule a forum or debate that would feature speakers from both sides, Farmer said.
The coalition opposes the park because its members believe that “the land the federal government would take for a ‘National Park’ is neither an uninhabited pristine forest nor a wasteland ruined by irresponsible forestry,” according to mainewoodscoalition.org.
“It is, as it has been for hundreds of years, a healthy and beautiful multi-use woodland that is already extensively protected against over development, visual degradation and environmental abuse,” the website states. “It is a treasured home to tens of thousands of native Mainers, seasonal visitors, and businesses, while providing a bountiful habitat for all of nature.”
Park proponents are invited to attend the event and can speak at the podium. Residents from Brownville, Patten and Sherman have expressed interest in attending, Marston said.
“I hope everybody comes from all the towns. It is not just for the citizens here,” Marston said of Wednesday’s meeting.
The meeting is set for 6 p.m.