New National Park for Maine?

Maine Woods National Park

Roxanne Quimby is a successful businesswoman, most noted for co-founding Bert’s Bees personal care products company, a philanthropist and conservation advocate.  When she sold Bert’s Bees, she purchased 120,000 acres of forested land in Maine.  Now she would like to donate 70,000 acres of that land to the citizens of the United States as a contribution for the Maine Woods National Park.  Another 30,000 acres would be managed more like a state park and allow more consumptive uses, like hunting. Her proposal could be a tiny start to a much larger National Park and would be located on the east side of Baxter State Park.

The overall proposed National Park would total 3.2 million acres, larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined.  It would encompass a huge portion of north-central Maine and surround Baxter State Park, the home of Mt. Katahdin and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  The idea has been in development for more than 20 years.

The Controversy – Public vs Private Land

While the proposal seems to be generally supported across Maine there is strong resistance from industry and business groups as well as certain recreation groups that would like the land to stay in private hands.  Local residents have voted in strong opposition to the park proposal.

 

Public Land

Quimby once told Yankee Magazine: “To me, ownership and private property were the beginning of the end in this country. Once the Europeans came in, drawing lines and dividing things up, things started getting exploited and over-consumed. But a park takes away the whole issue of ownership. It’s off the table; we all own it and we all share it. It’s so democratic.”

 

Private Land

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said: “History shows that once the National Park Service takes control of land, the boundaries continue to grow, as do restrictions on commercial development and recreational activities.  For generations, Maine’s large landowners have managed their lands for sustainable wood harvesting, while also allowing public access for an endless variety of recreational activities. It’s a tradition that is unique in the U.S. and has served Maine well. We don’t need the federal government taking control of our lands and our future.”

The Controversy – Jobs

The main source of jobs and value of this area in the past has been associated with forest products.

 

Park Proponents

Moosehead Lake

Moosehead Lake Postcard

Proponents of the park argue that there have been huge declines in mills and associated employment over the years and the the forest products industry only employs about 5% of the people in the region of the park now.  They quote Michael Hillard, an economist at the University of Southern Maine, as saying: “Most of southern Maine is prospering while most of northern Maine is languishing. Northern counties have seen their manufacturing jobs go away and nothing has moved in to replace them.”

Proponents, naturally,  see the solution as creation of the National Park.  Not only is this said to increase the number of relatively low wage jobs associated with recreation and tourism services, but would also attract industries with higher skilled and higher paying jobs to the region.  Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, has said about her donation: “It’s a $100 million investment in a region that needs it and there’s no other investment on the table.”

 

Park Opponents

The Maine Woods Coalition says: “The 2013 Report on Maine’s Forest Economy produced by the Maine Forest Products Council states that the forest industry contributes more than $8 billion to the economy of the state and 1 of every 20 jobs in Maine is related to the wood products industry. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, the typical overnight visitor to our region spends $85/day. To make up for the loss of productivity of locking up 3.2 million acres of forestland, a National Park would have to bring 11.6 million ADDITIONAL tourists to the region. ”  Whether the numbers are correct or not, at least the number of those employed in forest products industries matches.

Saddleback Mountain

Saddleback Mountain
By Marqqq (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Is an additional 11.6 million visitors plausible? Yellowstone, for example, drew 3.5 million visitors in 2014.  While the Maine woods has a much larger population base in the northeastern U.S., it would probably be a stretch to draw that many visitors with a more rustic area lacking the unique features of Yellowstone.   Nonetheless, the reality of drawing 11.6 million tourists does not seem to be the issue, but rather the impact those tourists would have on the communities and lifestyles of the people living in the area.  In most cases, it’s really difficult to replace manufacturing jobs with equivalent recreation and tourism jobs in terms of income.  The result is likely to be more low-wage jobs and not enough of those jobs to replace the total income generated by the forest products industry.

Opponents say: “A diversification of the economy, seeking a balance between manufacturing and ‘high-tech’ industry and the service jobs related to tourism will best strengthen the region”

The Controversy – Cost

In the broader discussion of National Parks in the U.S., some point to the declining condition of park facilities and argue for increased funding.  Others argue that those current financial needs suggest that the country can’t afford more National Parks.

More Information

Proponents:  RESTORE: The North Woods

Opponents:  Maine Woods Coalition

 

What Do You Think?

If you are reading this in an email, hop over to the original blog post and use the comment section at the bottom to offer your take on this proposal.  Should the Maine Woods National Park become a reality?  Why or why not?

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