Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Lee Ann Szelog of Whitefield is an author, photographer, speaker and co-founder of the Maine Woods National Park Photo-Documentation Project.

With the “yes” vote passing to ban the Central Maine Power Co. corridor, the residents of Maine have spoken about the importance of protecting Maine’s great North Woods, a portion of which was targeted for destruction if the corridor had been approved.

Preserving Maine’s North Woods is an ever-increasing priority. Pressures on this fragile wilderness ecosystem from commercial industries and private entities increase with each passing day. As we recently witnessed with the CMP corridor initiative, this area is under extreme risk of exploitation.

Maine residents and all Americans have the opportunity to rally together to create a 3.2 million acre Maine Woods National Park. The proposed park would protect the greatest undeveloped, unprotected and delicate ecosystem east of the Rocky Mountains. Protecting this area protects, in part, expanses of northern hardwood and evergreen forest, headwaters of five Maine rivers, Moosehead Lake, the greatest concentration of remote ponds in the Northeast, wildlife habitat for moose, black bear, brook trout, and a number of endangered and sensitive species such as the Canada lynx, the Appalachian Trail Hundred Mile Wilderness section, and significant cultural features.

In a state that boasts 21 million acres, we can and should protect 3.2 million of these priceless acres, especially in this day and age. We cannot afford to not protect these 3.2 million acres when, in the last 200 years, the U.S. has lost 50 percent of its wetlands, 90 percent of its northwestern old-growth forests and 99 percent of its tall prairies. Within the 10 million acre heart of Maine’s Great North Woods, there would remain 7 million acres for commercial, private and recreational use.

National Park Service numbers show the increasing popularity among tourists to visit America’s National Parks. Acadia National Park alone is on track for a record-breaking year in 2021. In addition to protecting priceless ecosystems, national parks have a track record of significantly boosting the economy.

Working collaboratively, we can protect this wilderness while at the same time ensuring ample land remains for Maine’s hunting, fishing and recreational traditions, and access to land for all.

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a great cornerstone for this proposed park. Along with many other individual land tracts within the proposed boundary that are protected through land trusts, and easements, working collaboratively can make the proposed park a reality. Let us be visionaries, preserving this area for the good of all species, human and wild.

Business leaders know the value of having a vision to ensure the long-term viability of companies. We as a society need to be the many, many leaders with a vision to ensure the long-term viability of our natural world. Reflect on the vision of former Gov. Percival Baxter. Can you imagine not having Baxter State Park and Katahdin protected? Baxter had a vision and made it a reality. A reality that is treasured and visited by 60,000 visitors annually.

Having a keen vision contributes to progress, but progress isn’t always building the newest, most high-tech building or equipment. Sometimes progress is having the acumen and courage to simply preserve those things that don’t need to be improved, such as nature itself.

I recently had the opportunity to visit an area within the proposed park on Indigenous People’s Day. As I paused at a small stream, with all my senses stimulated among the silent, exquisite beauty from the grand mountain vistas surrounding me to the smallest birds and mammals feeding peacefully, and surrounded by nature’s vibrant autumn colors stunningly displayed, I said to myself, “why is this area not already protected?” I felt ashamed for the human species that we have not yet protected this last bastion of nature’s glory.

You can help by contacting your U.S. senators and congressmen and women, including Sen. Angus King, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, President Joe Biden, and U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, urging them to support legislation to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed Maine Woods National Park.