By Nick Sambides Jr., Bangor Daily News
AUGUSTA, Maine — A coalition opposing a proposed 150,000-acre national park in the Katahdin region has asked leading park proponents Roxanne Quimby and her son, Lucas St. Clair, to give up on the idea and work with the group to find other ways to help the area’s economy.
“We respectfully ask you to abandon your plans and apply your substantial land holdings and financial resources to more realistic and meaningful economic development in the region,” stated the letter coalition members sent to Quimby and St. Clair on Tuesday.
Anne Mitchell of the Maine Woods Coalition, Patrick Strauch of the Maine Forest Products Council, Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association, and David Trahan of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine signed the letter, which was released to the media on Wednesday.
Quimby, a well-known entrepreneur and philanthropist, St. Clair, and their spokesman, David Farmer, did not respond immediately Wednesday to requests for comment from the Bangor Daily News.
“Despite all your efforts and expenditures, the people of Medway and East Millinocket have now joined the Millinocket Town Council in resoundingly rejecting your plan for a national park,” the open letter continues. “The opposition in these towns is even more striking given the economic devastation the region has experienced with the demise of Great Northern Paper. Yet, as much as the Katahdin Region desperately needs investment and new jobs, the people in the towns that would be most impacted by your plans have told you ‘no.’ ”
East Millinocket residents voted 320-191 in a nonbinding vote on June 29 to reject the proposal. Medway voted 252-102 on June 23 against the idea, but the town’s Board of Selectmen maintained its endorsement of the plan after the vote. Millinocket’s Town Council members have said they oppose the park and so does their town.
The letter called it “astounding and condescending” that the outcome of the recent Medway and East Millinocket straw polls was apparently dismissed by the campaign, “as if the people in these towns simply weren’t smart enough to understand your plan for their future.”
“Well, sometimes big ideas are just plain bad ideas, and voters in Medway and E. Millinocket clearly understand that,” the letter states.
The letter offered no specific economic development proposals.
St. Clair proposes donating family land east of Baxter State Park to create a 75,000-acre national park and a same-sized multi-use recreation area as a gift to the nation. His proposal follows a similar plan Quimby offered in 2011.
National park opponents have said they fear it would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with tighter air-quality restrictions, bring unwanted federal authority into northern Maine, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2-million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s. They doubt that the park would have the positive impact predicted and also say the National Park Service has a huge maintenance backlog with its holdings.
Proponents said a park could generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills and coexist with established industries. They say that parks in several western states work well with surrounding foresters and that national parks have never in the service’s history been anything other than positive economic contributors to communities around them.
The Quimby family owns about 88,000 acres within the proposed 150,000-acre zones for the park, which has caused some landowners within the zones to express discomfort or opposition to the plan. St. Clair has said the zones were merely limits drawn to reassure those who fear the park would become massive.
This story appears through a media partnership with Bangor Daily News.