A proposed land swap that would add 6,000 acres around Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park is one of those rare “win-win” deals that actually does benefit all involved.
Unfortunately, a group of misguided hunters and snowmobilers are trying to turn a vote on the proposal into a referendum on a principle.
The principle, apparently, is that they’re fed up with elitists locking off land from traditional users like them. Except that Katahdin Lake offers marginal hunting and has never been popular with snowmobilers.
There’s a very real chance that these myopic “outdoorsmen” and their short-sighted supporters in the Legislature could scuttle one of the most important conservation deals in a generation.
Forget for a moment that vast stretches of Maine are already open to hunting. Forget that snowmobilers can already sled from Freeport to Rangeley and beyond on their own trails.
Forget that hunters and snowmobilers represent a distinct minority in Maine.
Let’s remember what’s at stake, since opponents have either forgotten or don’t care.
When Gov. Percival Baxter spent a fortune creating a 200,000-acre wilderness park that bears his name, a key piece eluded his grasp: Katahdin Lake, an unparalleled reflecting pool for Maine’s most magnificent peak.
For the first time in a century, these lands are available for protection as an unprecedented building boom invades Maine’s North Woods. The owner, Gardner Land Co., once intended to cut the Katahdin Lake tract, which has one of the state’s biggest expanses of old-growth forest. But the Gardner family, which employs 200 in Penobscot County, would rather to expand its forest holdings to satisfy the growing demand of one of its customers, the Lincoln Paper and Tissue mill.
The family, the state and conservation groups have created a complicated $14 million deal that gives the Gardners more timber, helps the North Woods economy and fulfills Baxter’s vision of adding Katahdin Lake to the core of the park, where hunting is prohibited. In addition, it would give the state $5.5 million to permanently protect some of the state’s best privately-owned wildlife habitat, lands that might otherwise be sold and posted against hunting.
A part of the deal involves the sale of 7,400 acres of state timberland in four counties for transfer to the Gardners. That requires a two-thirds vote of the evenly-divided Legislature. The vote is now in doubt.
Lawmakers ought to look past the special interest carping they’re likely to face at a public hearing today in Augusta and focus on the big picture. If they sabotage this deal, they will richly deserve the scorn that follows.