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Reactions to National Monument Announcement Vary in Katahdin Region

John Hough (l.), Gary Allen (c.) and Jesse Dumais discussing the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument at the Appalachian Trail Cafe.
Jennifer Mitchell/MPBN

Predictably, reactions have been mixed in Millinocket and neighboring East Millinocket, the towns involved in the monument debate over the past several years.

It’s been the big topic of conversation at Millinocket’s Appalachian Trail café for some time. A gathering place for both locals and through hikers, folks were deep in discussion about the potential for a monument over coffee and eggs Wednesday morning. And then:

“I’m not taken aback by it at all,” says Jesse Dumais, a Millinocket town councilman. “I was kind of mentally prepared for it. I think it’s time to get to work and more on and be part of the conversation.”

Dumais is one of only a few on the council open to the national monument idea. He says he had personal reservations about allowing that much forest land into the hands of the federal government, and like many, he says he was initially fearful of losing access, or being stuck behind a pay gate. But he says, as much as he’d like to see a new flurry of activity into the region’s forest products industry, he has yet to see any plan to make that happen.

“Change is scary sometimes,” he says. “It’s going to be a different area when it’s all said and done. The mill [closures] has left us in a hole we can’t dig ourselves out of. And this is part of that.”

About seven miles away in East Millinocket, the discussion on selectman Mark Marston’s front takes on a different tone.

“It’s kind of disheartening to think that everyone in the area is against this and it’s being shoved down our throat, all because someone’s got money,” says Marston.

He was not surprised by the news, but calls it a “sad day.” East Millinocket’s board of selectmen was overwhelmingly opposed to the monument, with just one selectman dissenting. Marston is visibly disappointed by the news. He’s talking things over with a resident who has stopped by to discuss the issue. Philippe Page worked for 40 years in the now shuttered East Millinocket paper mill. Page doubts the park will be the economic driver some are expecting.

“I don’t believe it’s going create the jobs — we all know it’s a not going to, that they claim it’s going to,” says Page. “A lot of the communities have turned this down and handful of people shouldn’t be trying to change it. And I just feel it’s totally wrong.”

And more than that, Page and Marston both say that with the announcement that President Obama had signed the order, the Central Highlands have been irrevocably changed. Marston describes it as the “beginning of the end.”

Disappointed over park. Mark Marston (l.) is an East Millinocket selectman. Philippe Page (r.) is a resident who worked 40 years at the mill.
Credit Jennifer Mitchell/MPBN
Disappointed over park. Mark Marston (l.) is an East Millinocket selectman. Philippe Page (r.) is a resident who worked 40 years at the mill.

“Our traditional culture of what we’ve always done. Free access to hunt and fish and go where we want.”

Marston says, contrary to popular belief, the rusting mill structure has drawn interest from several parties, who have talked of a potential forest products industry of some kind — but he says he is not at liberty to say more. A federally owned chunk of forestland can only get in the way of such discussions he says.

But others say they’re tired of waiting. James Willis, one of the locals breakfasting at the café in Millinocket, says until someone comes up with something better, there’s no reason not to embrace more tourism.

“Well if you bring it to a community like Millinocket that has no paying jobs,” says Willis. “I mean, low paying is way better than no paying jobs. People just had this idea that they wanted to say no to this.”

But now President Obama has said “Yes” and representatives from both communities say the question now, is how the area is be developed, and whether or not their towns will actually see any benefit.