PATTEN, Maine — National Park Service officials might have to leave work space provided to them by a local nonprofit museum after a donor threatened to withhold funding in protest of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, officials said Friday.
The donor, who represents a local forest products industry business whom Patten Lumbermen’s Museum Curator Rhonda Brophy declined to identify, told her during a telephone call on Friday that “he has spoken to many people who feel the same way,” Brophy said Friday. “They are upset.”
The threat came two days after President Barack Obama signed an executive order accepting entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby’s 87,563-acre donation to the park service. The five monument parcels are about 5 miles west of the museum, which is on Shin Pond Road. Park service officials opened a similar office in Millinocket on Thursday.
The museum’s board of directors will meet at the museum at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the funding threat and how park service officials came to occupy a table in the front left corner of the museum, Brophy said.
Tim Hudson, the park service official overseeing the monument, did not return a telephone message left Friday.
Christina Marts, park service community planner, said the park service was still finalizing details with local officials regarding the Patten office.
She handed out brochures and discussed the monument with about 20 museum visitors by about 1 p.m. Friday. One of the visitors, Jeffrey Raymond of Casco, said he wasn’t surprised at the controversy. A visitor to nearby Baxter State Park at least once per year, Raymond said he could see himself eventually taking a look at the monument lands.
“I am not a sportsman. I am a recreationist,” Raymond said. “I like to bike and hike.”
It might prove popular with tourists, but the monument designation is deeply unpopular with many people in the forest products industry. Some industry stalwarts condemned the monument as an intrusion of federal authority into their domain, the largest contiguous forest east of the Mississippi, and a threat to their multibillion-dollar interests.
Many of those same companies contribute to the museum, a 501(c) educational and charitable institution. The museum relies on $60,000 to $70,000 in donations annually to remain operational, Brophy said.
“I have to be sensitive to the lumber companies. Many donations come from lumber and trucking industries in the area, and they have the ability to refuse future donations,” Brophy said.
Museum officials have remained neutral in the monument debate and typically allow local volunteer and community groups to post displays and use the museum’s main buildings for meetings, Brophy said.
“There are really no other places in Patten that are usable like this,” Brophy said.
Brophy’s decision to allow the park service to use museum space came on Wednesday after board Chairman Frank Rogers agreed with it, she said.
Rogers did not return telephone calls on Friday.
“This happened very suddenly,” Brophy said of the park service move into the area.
Patten Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Schmidt III said he supported the museum hosting the park service. A monument supporter, Schmidt would understand if the museum stopped hosting the park service — “money talks, right?” he said — but felt it vital that a park service office remain in Patten.
The office, Schmidt said, will draw welcome monument visitors and other business to the northern Penobscot County town, which has a population of 1,017 as of the last census. Patten is the ideal place to host an office, as it is the closest hub or service municipality to the monument’s two entrances, Schmidt said.
The museum hosting the monument staff is practical, but it also is a symbolic fusion of the region’s forest products and tourism industries. The two industries are incorrectly seen, Schmidt said, as opponents, when together they help give northern Maine much-needed economic diversity.
“It is not about this or that. It should be about this and that,” Schmidt said.
“We will work with the National Park Service to find a location in this town that will work for them as well as the town. We will do whatever we need to do to ensure that they have a permanent place in this town, assuming that they have the desire to be here,” Schmidt added.
One of the museum’s neighboring landowners offered on Friday to host a park service office should the museum site not work out, according to Schmidt, who added he hoped that a new location would not be necessary.
Schmidt said the forest products industry is very much alive and that he hoped it would remain that way, but the long-predicted demise of most of the state’s paper mills shouldn’t be seen as Quimby’s or Obama’s fault. The paper industry’s issues were obvious enough to likely be among the reasons landowners sold parcels to Quimby starting in 2001, Schmidt said.
“It didn’t all happen overnight,” said Schmidt, who commended the state’s congressional delegation for bringing a team of federal economic experts to the region earlier this month to aid state manufacturers.
“Yes, we have a wood basket out there,” Schmidt said, “but we need to find alternative ways to profit from it.”