National park proposal sharply questioned at forum

tardie column sigThe proposed national park in northern Maine was the topic of a forestry forum April 22 at the Ashland District School Auditorium.More than 60 people attended, including forestry professionals, mill owners, two bank representatives, one media rep from the Star Herald (weekly paper), representatives of Sen. Angus King and Sen. Susan Collins, town managers from Ashland and Portage, and interested community members.

Lucas St. Clair, representing the Quimby Family Foundation, began the forum and talked about the attributes of a National Park. He was followed by Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association; Jim Robbins, Robbins Lumber, and Doug Denico, Maine state forester. The forum ended with a Q&A, which provided lively comments and discussion.  Some said the land in question is not attractive to the scale of a National Park. Others wondered why the land is not included in a state park, public lands, Lands for Maine’s Future or placed in a conservation easement under a trust.  

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

“What really strikes me at these forums is once you get beyond the massive PR campaign is that there’s nothing there,” Meyers said. “This scheme is just that. No plan other than ceding control of a lot of land to the federal government. How can this end well when there are so many things that can go badly?”

Loss of local control also was a concern of many. One participant from Quebec noted that when a significant park was established, it took productive forestland out of production. St. Clair responded that the ultimate goal is to have the land accepted as a national park or other federal designation. 

Robbins presented a list of  “20 Reasons to Oppose the Proposed National Park in Northern Maine.” He also quoted former Gov. Percival Baxter’s reasons for insuring Katahdin was protected as part of a state park, rather than a national park, to demonstrate that Baxter did not want a national park in Maine. He also raised concerns about a potential change in EPA Air Quality Standards from Class II to Class I, as the change would impact mills in Ashland, Lincoln and the Katahdin Region.  St. Clair denied that the Class I designation would be a condition of the proposed park. 

Later, Robbins said he was “amazed” that St. Clair presented a video that “showed all these pictures off Katahdin and Baxter State Park and very few of his own land, which is not pretty.” As for the 75,000 recreation area that St. Clair has proposes, Robbins said, “two-thirds of the land they don’t even own.”

Jim Robbins speaks in opposition to the proposed national park.
Jim Robbins, MFPC Executive Committee, speaks in opposition to the proposed national park.

The audience appeared to question St. Clair’s statement that the park would be accessible to the general public as compared, for example, to access under North Maine Woods. Some in the audience also questioned his figures on potential visitor days and employment numbers.  Meyers of the MSA appeared to make more headway when he presented facts about the restrictive nature of access on national parks.

Denico presented information about the impact of a national park on forestry employment, wood supply, taxes and the state GDP. He also said that the land in question is included in the calculation for the state’s total wood supply. Mill owners voiced their concern on wood supply and eventual impact to their operations.

Many comments from participants centered around concerns that park supporters are playing on the economic vulnerability of the Katahdin Region.  After the forum, some voiced concern about the region’s ability to attract investment capital in the forest sector if a significant amount of forest land were to be taken out of production. Some also asked if there is going to be an organized effort to counter the park initiative and who would lead it. Many felt more information and facts about the park’s potential impact should be available.

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