The leader of the National Park Service will attend two public forums moderated by U.S. Sen. Angus King on the proposed North Woods national monument at two Maine education centers later this month, King’s office announced Thursday.
Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the park service, will participate in a forum at Katahdin Region Higher Education Center in East Millinocket at noon Monday, May 16, and at the University of Maine in Orono at 5 p.m. the same day. The public is invited, King spokesman Scott Ogden said.
Ogden’s statement described the UMaine session as providing “the public and interested stakeholders the opportunity to express their thoughts and questions to Director Jarvis and to learn more about national monument designations from him.”
It was unclear whether the first session would feature a question-and-answer session. The East Millinocket forum will be attended by East Millinocket, Medway, Millinocket, Medway, Patten and Stacyville government officials and school boards, Ogden said.
Leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair will participate in the UMaine session but might not be in the first, said his spokesman, David Farmer.
“We think this is a great opportunity for people to get their questions answered and to speak to Director Jarvis and to let he and Sen. King know what the thoughts are on the proposal,” said Farmer, who writes a column on politics for the Bangor Daily News.
One of the leading voices against the park and monument, Maine Forest Products Council Executive Director Patrick Strauch, said he looked forward to the forums.
“I just hope it is all in a format that is accessible to everyone who wants to say something,” Strauch said Thursday. “The communities there have a vested interest in what happens with this. They are trying to shape their future and we represent one part of that future. We want to keep all the options open for that region and the forest products industry.”
The visit arises from a series of letters exchanged by Jarvis and King, I-Maine, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, both R-Maine, over the controversial monument proposal.
The family of entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair’s mother, has met with strong resistance from state and local government officials, recreational and forest products industries since at least 2011 in its effort to donate family land east of Baxter State Park to the park service as a national park and recreation area. Gov. Paul LePage, the state Legislature, and the governments or residents of East Millinocket, Millinocket, Medway and Patten oppose the park or monument. Bangor’s City Council and the state’s Penobscot Indian tribe support it.
The park campaign effort changed in November when St. Clair announced that he had begun negotiating a monument with White House officials when it became apparent that the state’s federal delegates were not going to support a park. A national park can only be created by a bill submitted to Congress.
Presidents, however, can create monuments through executive orders. Quimby is serving the final year of her six-year term as a member of the National Park Foundation board of directors with some of the nation’s most rich and influential people.
St. Clair has visited the park service offices in Washington, D.C., and the White House several times and has hired a lobbying firm to work for the park and monument effort. Jarvis also visited the family’s land in 2014, St. Clair has said.
The monument designation would be a stepping stone to a park bill’s passage, St. Clair has said.
Park opponents have expressed fears that Quimby’s influence in Washington would outflank their position. King, Collins and Poliquin exchanged three letters with Obama and Jarvis over the monument proposal, saying that local feelings must be considered.
In the first, dated Nov. 20, they asked the president to aid the struggling Katahdin region but refrain from creating a monument without honoring nine conditions, including allowing the U.S. Forest Service to oversee the monument rather than the park service and establishing a local and state advisory board to help manage the lands.
Jarvis responded for Obama by extolling the positive economic impact but failed to mention the nine conditions, moving them to declare his answer totally unresponsive. The state’s fourth delegate, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, supports the park and monument.
The nine conditions include providing “express permission for all traditional recreation uses” with the monument designation. That includes hunting, fishing, and all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile use.
The president also must preserve the “robust forestry activities” such as logging, trucking and timber harvesting and give preference to Maine businesses and products in contracting for monument services. All adjacent lands must be kept free of federal control, with established easements and rights of way maintained, the letter states, and no eminent domain seizures of adjacent land should be permitted.
In the third letter, dated March 25, King reiterated his support for the conditions.