There’s been much written about what National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and Sen. Angus King heard during their meetings this week with Maine people about a proposed national monument near Patten.
Less attention has been focused on what Jarvis, the highest ranking official within the park service, said.
Jarvis listened — for hours — to Maine residents who adamantly oppose a monument or park and to those who eagerly await the inclusion of 87,500 acres owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc. in the park service’s portfolio.
At the end of a well-attended public hearing in Orono on Monday, Jarvis took the microphone to answer the questions he’d heard. Far from ignoring concerns from opponents of a monument designation, Jarvis answered every question he heard and addressed each questioner by name.
Here’s a quick summary of Jarvis’ response to questions: No, the park service will not — and cannot — use eminent domain to enlarge the monument. There are no buffers around National Park Service lands and no regulations that restrict activities on land near these properties. Yes, hunting and snowmobiling will continue to be allowed on the land east of the Penobscot River. Guides will be welcomed. Oil and gas drilling and mining will not be allowed if the park service acquires the land. Local input will be sought and valued.
And, yes, this land is worthy of a monument designation. This small piece of the Maine woods can be “an example for the rest of the world of the beauty you all know and love here in Maine,” Jarvis said.
A national monument designation “says that your story, your history, your area is of national importance and there’s great pride in that,” Jarvis told the audience. “You should be proud of these incredible places and its history.”
People who live close to the proposed monument naturally have a different sense of pride about the area than those who only occasionally visit. They are proud of the long tradition of public access to the privately owned woodland that covers much of Maine. That pride can turn into anger that these lands have changed hands and that the rules for their use have changed.
Some in attendance in Orono and most at an earlier meeting in East Millinocket expressed distrust of Lucas St. Clair, his family’s foundation and the federal government. They yearned for the time when they could hunt and fish on the vast tracts of paper company-owned land before it was taken away from “us.”
The chairman of the Patten Board of Selectmen, Richard H. Schmidt III, summed up eloquently the region’s pride of “ownership” of the North Woods and the fear bred by constant change.
“The land and activities that make up Maine’s North Woods are as much a part of us as we are of them,” he wrote in a May 18 BDN column in support of a monument. “This land has shaped us through generations that built our communities. Many, throughout those generations, have used the land in question as though it were our own because in some ways, it was, despite what you may find on a piece of paper at the registry of deeds.
“But those deeds, and the changes made to them over the past few decades, are important,” he continued. “The paper companies left our communities. And they took with them something many of us never imagined could be taken; the certainty of our economic well-being.”
Roxanne Quimby’s ownership has also eroded that certainty. But Quimby’s land has become more accessible over time in response to concerns from local residents, and EPI’s proposal has changed accordingly. Hunting and snowmobiling are now allowed on some of the EPI land. EPI, which seeks to donate the land and $40 million to the park service, has committed to include the continuation of such access in its deeds of transfer. With a monument designation, Jarvis said this access will continue, in perpetuity.
Over time, EPI heeded local voices, and that process resulted in a better plan.
This is a victory. This region is special, the man who could play a role in advising the president on a national monument designation has concluded. More important, the land should be kept the way it is, open to Maine’s long tradition of recreation but also beckoning to a wider public which has yet to discover its beauty and history.