PORTLAND, Maine — Sierra Club Maine on Wednesday announced that it will support efforts to have President Barack Obama designate about 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park owned by the family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby a national monument as a step toward the creation of a national park.
“Sierra Club Maine leaders believe the proposed national park and recreation area are important to the state in a number of ways, most notably in the preservation of a historically and ecologically important area and as a stimulus to the Maine economy,” a press release from the environmental organization said.
Because establishing a national park requires congressional approval that may be difficult to obtain, the Sierra Club also will urge Obama to consider issuing an executive order designating the land as a national monument.
“A national monument carries the same protections as a national park,” said Jim Frick of Bangor, a Sierra Club Maine executive committee member who works on Maine Woods issues. “And it could be an interim step toward the eventual creation of a park.”
David Farmer, spokesman for leading park advocate Lucas St. Clair, welcomed the announcement Wednesday.
“Support for the creation of a national park and a national recreation area in the Katahdin region continues to grow, and we appreciate the support of the Sierra Club, which understands the economic opportunity this proposal creates and is also committed to protecting a special place in Maine,” Farmer said. “Our goal remains unchanged — to create a new national park and recreation area. But we are also exploring other options, including a monument designation, as an interim step on the way to the creation of a park and recreation area.”
Farmer also said that Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation that would donate the land to create a new national park and national recreation area along with a $40 million endowment to offset maintenance and operations costs, has not asked Obama for a national monument designation.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association and a park opponent said Wednesday in an email that he was not surprised by the announcement.
“It is part of their ongoing admission that in spite of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past year to consultants and public relations specialists that they have failed to convince the local communities and the congressional delegation that their park scheme is a good idea,” Meyers said.
“After years of giving lip service to the ‘public process,’ they now seem to feel that it’s perfectly OK to completely bypass the public and legislative process, and seek an executive order with no public process at all.”
Sierra Club Maine has been calling for a federal study to evaluate the economic, recreational, and ecological impact of the national park proposal, the press release said.
“Unfortunately, there’s been no movement toward undertaking such a study,” Frick said in the release. “But we don’t want to let this opportunity pass — it’s become increasingly clear that a national park would greatly benefit the region and all the people of Maine.”
Sierra Club Maine will be urging its members to contact the president and Maine’s congressional delegation to ask them to support the national park/monument plan, the release said. The organization has about 14,000 members.
In November 2015, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin wrote a four-page letter to Obama urging him to use federal authority to aid the region’s economy but to refrain from signing an executive order designating the area a national monument.
Poliquin on Nov. 30 introduced a bill in Congress that would limit a president’s ability to designate national monuments without first receiving approval from host governors and state legislatures. He has not taken a stand on the park proposal but is opposed to the creation of a national monument.
Rep. Chellie Pingree has expressed support for a national park.
Gov. Paul LePage has opposed the park proposal and the designation of a national monument as an interim step.
Collins and Poliquin are Republicans. King is an independent, and Pingree is a Democrat.
Bangor Daily News writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.