MILLINOCKET, Maine — The man who will oversee the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument opened an office Thursday in the town that arguably has been most opposed to his efforts.
Speaking from a small storefront at 200 Penobscot Ave., National Park Service Facilities and Parks Manager Tim Hudson said workers had finished grading the loop road and would soon be re-decking the Whetstone Bridge to the Swift Brook Road entrance to the monument, about 25 miles to the north. Monument signs will go up near and within the 87,563-acre property in the next month, Hudson said.
Those labors, however, should not detract from another of Hudson’s key responsibilities, he said — to do what he can to allay the concerns of monument opponents and establish the park service as a good neighbor.
“We want to hear what people have to say,” the 68-year-old Hudson said Thursday. “We want to set up dialogue. You talk, you listen, you try to understand what is going on, and you don’t take an adversarial position at all.”
A similar office will be established at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum on Shin Pond Road in Patten within a day or two. It will be manned largely by volunteers.
Patten Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Schmidt III said that Millinocket’s office opened first because its landlord could help park officials get set up immediately.
The opening of the Patten office “is an absolutely critical part of making the most of this opportunity,” Schmidt said.
Hudson’s presence on Thursday fulfills a promise park service Director Jonathan Jarvis made during a visit to the region on May 16 — to have boots on the ground the day after President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the monument east of Baxter State Park. That order came Wednesday, fulfilling entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s dream of giving back to the nation that helped make her a millionaire.
Monuments, park officials have said, bear little practical difference to national parks, though they might be advertised less. Presidents can create monuments unilaterally with executive orders. Only Congress can create parks.
National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Mike Caldwell said Hudson, a Bangor resident for the past three years, was a good choice to help the park service establish its first holding in the North Woods — the largest contiguous forest east of the Mississippi — since the Appalachian Trail.
“Tim is an innovative leader who has dedicated his career to building partnerships and advancing creative approaches to park management,” Caldwell said in a statement. “We are excited about having Tim work with the local community and partners, as we assume responsibility for this remarkable gift.”
That gift is open to the public, Hudson said. No entrance fee is being charged. About 25 telephone inquiries about the monument had been received by noon, about 2½ hours after the office opened, via the monument’s telephone line at 456-6001, which is at the moment a cellphone.
Visitors to the land will find that Messer Pond Road is gated west of the Haskell Hut area. The road connects to the north, or Matagamon Road, entrance off Grand Lake Road. No restrictions to land use have been added to those Quimby maintained when she owned the land, Hudson said.
A steady trickle of visitors came into the office to chat and collect monument maps after Hudson and Community Planner Christina Marts had vacuumed it and set up some tables and chairs.
“We are very thankful to be here and to be able to speak to everyone,” Hudson said.
Hudson has nearly 50 years of expertise in park service project management. For the last three years, he led the park service’s Hurricane Sandy recovery program for the Northeast region. The $300 million program included more than 120 projects cleaning up and repairing national park units. It was the largest restoration program ever undertaken by the park service, officials said.
Hudson worked in the park service’s Alaska region as associate regional director for operations starting in 2006. During his longest single posting, 20 years as the chief of maintenance at Yellowstone National Park, he managed road construction projects, snowmobile enhancements and winter recreational access, extensive facilities projects and partnerships with concessioners, cooperators and local communities, officials said.
Marts, who also is a veteran park service worker, will assist Hudson for several months, officials said.
The office’s visitors on Thursday were cordial, if not welcoming, Hudson said. He had little comment about Gov. Paul LePage’s statement on Wednesday that the executive order showed average Mainers “that the political system is rigged against them by wealthy, self-serving liberals from away.”
“People are entitled to their opinion,” Hudson said.
Hudson said he hopes to use local input in shaping the monument once employees of Elliotsville Plantation Inc., Quimby’s company, finish the road and bridge work.
Marts was setting up a series of community listening sessions set to start the week of Sept. 12, she said.
Those sessions will be the first step toward gathering the local and public input that will shape the monument, Hudson said. Elliotsville Plantation is using a portion of the $20 million endowment Quimby promised as part of the monument proposal to pay for the road work and the re-decking of the Sandbank Stream and Whetstone bridges, Hudson said.
The cost of the work is not finalized, Hudson said.
The endowment’s presence helps speed up some of the sitework. Without it, federal money would be used. Getting that would require a congressional bill or addition to the park service budget, which would likely delay the work by several months, Jarvis has said.
The park service is using the endowment sparingly, Hudson said, because it is not intended to fund capital projects.
Hudson and Marts won’t have much time to prepare for this weekend’s visit to the new monument by U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. On Saturday, Jewell will tour some of the woods and waters within the monument. She will meet with community and business leaders on Sunday at the New England Outdoor Center on Millinocket Lake.
Hudson said he is pleased with the reception that he and Marts have received. Maine’s anti-monument controversy is nowhere near as fierce as was the battle over some of Alaska’s monuments decades ago. In the worst of those fights, merchants against the park service presence refused to sell food to park workers, he said.
“This has been extremely civilized,” Hudson said. “That’s what this country is all about.”