BANGOR, Maine — A group supporting a proposed national park and recreation area in the Katahdin region on Tuesday unveiled a petition containing 13,580 signatures from people around the world who back the idea in hopes of convincing Maine’s congressional delegation to help make it a reality.
Speaking at a press conference at the Charles Inn, the group said the petition, which was signed by 2,750 Mainers in 371 towns, calls for a federal bill supporting a park. U.S. residents and residents of 53 countries comprised the majority of the signers — a powerful example of a park’s international appeal, according to supporters.
Copies of the petition were scheduled to be delivered to congressional offices in Augusta, Bangor and Waterville on Tuesday. Park proponents said the primary backer of their effort, the Quimby family, hopes to pass a bill in 2016, to coincide with the National Park Service’s 100th year, but they have been given no expiration date on the family’s offer to donate its approximately 87,500 acres of land east of Baxter State Park to the park service.
“We are talking about what would be a national asset,” said Gail Fanjoy, president of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce. In a statement, Fanjoy called the petition signers “a small sampling of the tens of thousands of [Mainers] who think creation of a new national park and recreation area is a good idea.”
Willy Ritch, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the congresswoman continues to support a park but “has no immediate plans” to introduce legislation. Nor do U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, their representatives said in a joint statement.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, continues to meet with park advocates and opponents and examine the issue, his spokesman said.
“He is reviewing the latest proposal and the impact it would have on the local region. He remains firmly opposed to any proposal that would negatively impact local industries, limit Maine jobs or restrict public access to camping, hunting, fishing and snowmobiling,” according to Poliquin’s latest statement.
A park opponent called the petition meaningless.
Park opponent Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association said the petition deflects attention from significant park opposition in the Katahdin region, in state government and from Gov. Paul LePage, and many key elements in the forest products industry.
Votes, he said, count for more than petitions. East Millinocket and Medway residents rejected the park proposal in nonbinding referendums in June. Millinocket’s leaders have said they are confident their town opposes the park. Other nearby towns haven’t announced a position on the park.
“They are flailing,” Meyers said Tuesday of park supporters. “It is pretty obvious that they are getting nowhere. I don’t see the congressional delegation lining up to support this.”
Fanjoy said the opposing votes are “a poor representation of how the Katahdin region feels” about the park. Others described the park as a statewide issue that benefits all Mainers and preserves a lovely piece of the Maine woods.
Fanjoy described some northern Maine park opponents as “locals who have had a lifetime of entitlement to the woods and waters” that have “to understand that they had a job in an industry that no longer exists.”
Meyers called her statement “disgraceful” and a slur against the state’s present and past forest products industries.
In their statement, Collins and King said that the Katahdin region’s “economic well-being” is very important to them and they are continuing to gather information on the park proposal.
“The top priority for Senators Collins and King continues to be the economic well-being and future of the Katahdin region and the people who call it home, and [Collins and King] will continue to gather and consider input from a variety of interested parties on the national park proposal, including the petitioners from Maine,” according to the statement.
“Local support remains important for the success of any proposal,” the statement concluded.
Federal officials have estimated that a bill’s passage and a park’s creation would take three to nine years. Park supporters say they believe that the park service birthday will allow the park to come to fruition much faster. The park’s economic effect won’t be fully felt until it has been in business for several years, supporters have said.