MILLINOCKET, Maine — News that Roxanne Quimby transferred 87,563 acres to the federal government on Tuesday in a major step toward creation of a proposed North Woods national monument drew strong reactions from interested parties and members of the public.
Millinocket residents Ann Grunthaler and Jerry Daigle both said they are disappointed by the news.
“Once it becomes a national monument, it’s gone forever,” Grunthaler said, standing in her garage. “We’ve lost it.”
Daigle said he’s most disappointed by the possible loss of traditional access to the land.
“Residents would like to use the land,” he said, standing in a dooryard with “No Park for ME” signs posted in several neighboring yards. “Anybody who uses the area — who hunts out there — doesn’t want it.”
Stipulations in the deeds filed Tuesday, however, indicated some hunting would be allowed on the land.
Daigle wondered why Quimby didn’t give the land to Maine to expand Baxter State Park.
Others in town, including Paul and Jaime Renaud, who own Appalachian Trail Cafe and Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, were excited about the news, which they described as a gift to the region, state and country.
“I was like, ‘Yes,’ after five years,” Paul Renaud said seated inside the cafe. “It’s been a very hot issue. I want to ask [opponents], ‘Why can’t you open your eyes and see what is better for the community?’”
“It’s worth its weight in gold,” he said later.
Others around the state also described Quimby’s bequest as a present.
“What a great gift this would be to the people of Maine and to the nation,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmentalist group and monument supporter. “This land contains a stunningly beautiful collection of mountains, forests, waters and wildlife. And a national monument would provide badly needed economic benefits to the Katahdin region.”
Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidate Emily Cain bemoaned that an executive order, and not an act of Congress, was likely in the offing.
“As I’ve said for months, for me to support the decision it needs to be part of a plan to create jobs and protect the region’s hunting, sporting and logging traditions. An executive order was never the best way to handle this issue,” Cain said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Now that a decision has been made, we need to take advantage of the opportunity to create jobs for families in the Katahdin region and protect access for hunting, snowmobiling and other traditional uses,” she added.
Park opponent Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said “it is a sad day for the state of Maine.”
Patten Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Schmidt III said he looked forward to his town “acting as a gateway community for the thousands of people who will visit.”
“Many will buy goods and services from our local small businesses; some moving here, revitalizing our tax bases, refilling our schools and helping ensure the things we love and value about our state and nation are protected forever,” Schmidt said in a statement. “Too few people know about our region, and we look forward to introducing them to this beautiful area.”
“In a hundred years, we will look back to this week as a watershed moment in the history of northern Maine,” Patten Town Manager Raymond Foss said. “Now that it’s happened, we need to move forward with this reality.”
Patten residents voted to oppose a national park and monument in April. Patten is among the towns closest to Quimby’s land and viewed as its most likely access point. No access points have yet been determined, and some forest products industry players said they believe that the land lacks access.
Kristi Davis of Millinocket said she isn’t convinced that the monument will be a good idea.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, and I don’t know how this is going to benefit Millinocket like they say it will,” she said, adding that a lot of the access points to Quimby’s land are near Sherman, located on Interstate 95 north of Medway.
She said many residents are concerned about the lack of access for all-terrain vehicles and hunting restrictions on the land.
Millinocket Town Council member Charles Pray, a former president of the state Senate and who worked in the White House while Bill Clinton was president, took the news with sadness and pragmatism. An opponent of a monument, Pray has argued that the monument is unnecessary because hundreds of thousands of acres already are preserved by conservation groups and state programs — at least 2.1 million acres.
“Now that it has happened, how do we best utilize it to help diversify the new economy beginning in the Katahdin region? The paper industry economy is gone,” Pray said. “We still have the natural resources, the wood basket, hydropower in the area — all granted for the purposes of industrial development.”
With tourism industry jobs in Maine paying $9.50 to $10.50 per hour on average, the region needs more than a monument, Pray said.
Jacksonville, Florida, residents Paula and Chuck Klice said they arrived in Medway to hike Katahdin and other areas in the region and will be back to visit Quimby’s land.
“I’m spending Florida coin,” Paula Klice said, standing inside a Medway campground. “We like Maine. We like the cooler weather, and we like to hike.”
“We’re doing the reverse migration thing,” she added later. “Maine has a lot to offer. White-water rafting, kayaking, hiking.”
The couple purchased a recreational vehicle seven years ago and have been to Maine yearly ever since. They typically go to Acadia National Park and hit the Common Ground Country Fair, but this year, they decided to go a little farther inland.
“We’ve always stayed closed to the coast, and we wanted to experience the mountainous side of Maine,” Chuck Klice said.
The couple hit Bethel, went to Moosehead Lake and have plans to hike Katahdin on Wednesday.
The Renauds and the Klices said they have visited national parks all over the country and bedroom communities always benefit from being nearby. Many national monuments become national parks.
“A lot of jobs start to come and that will be a benefit for the community, especially since the timber industry has declined,” Chuck Klice said.
“I’m hoping it will help boost the economy,” Jaime Renaud said, describing traffic at her restaurant as dismal.
“They also say it’s taking away their heritage,” Paul Renaud said of local residents, some of whom have boycotted the cafe because of the owners’ pro-monument views. “What a better way to showcase their heritage. The mills are closed. We’ve lost five in three years. They are not coming back.”
Rumors of the monument designation happening sometime late this month had been afloat since last November, shortly after word from leading monument proponent Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, that he had changed the focus of his campaign from seeking a park. His paid lobbyist had been meeting with federal officials since April 2015.
“The national monument is not the answer to all the problems,” Jaime Renaud said. “With the mill, we had all our eggs in one basket. We need to diversify. We need to create a gateway to our beautiful area and with Baxter right next door, Acadia on the coast and Bangor as the big hub to bring people in, people will come.”
BDN writers Nok-Noi Ricker, Nick Sambides Jr. and Nick McCrea contributed to this report.