By The BDN Editorial Board
Bangor Daily News editorial
When national park service director Jonathan Jarvis comes to Maine next week, he’ll be barraged with thoughts about the creation of a national monument in the Maine woods. The arguments he’ll hear, for and against the land preservation plan, won’t be new. He’s heard them countless times in Maine and around the country. Each time a national park, recreation area or monument is proposed, the talking points are essentially the same. Proponents promise the conservation of important places and lots of visitors, translating into a boost for the local economy. Opponents warn that government control will shut down local industry and forestall future growth.
The simple question for the Obama administration, which is considering the declaration of 87,000 acres of Maine forestland as a national monument, is whether this land warrants such a designation.
We believe it does.
As history shows, the valleys and waterways east of Baxter State Park have significant appeal. The landscape inspired early conservationists including Henry David Thoreau and President Theodore Roosevelt. After visiting the area in 1846, and climbing Mount Katahdin, Thoreau called for the creation of “national preserves.”
“Why should not we, who have renounced the king’s authority, have our national preserves … for inspiration and our own true re-creation?” he wrote in “The Maine Woods.”
The landscape isn’t much different today from when Thoreau, Roosevelt and the Penobscot Indians first found themselves in awe because of its beauty and power. The rivers are still untamed, the vistas vast and old trees plentiful.
The land is owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation begun by controversial conservationist Roxanne Quimby, who has long sought to create a national park in the woods of Maine. The foundation has opened much of its land for recreational uses, including hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, canoeing, horseback riding and hiking. It is off-limits to timber harvesting.
EPI has been working for years to have its land become a national park. Despite broad public support, only one member of the state’s congressional delegation — 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree — backs that plan. The foundation has turned its attention to a national monument, which can be designated by the president under the Antiquities Act.
Many of the country’s now iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Acadia, were first preserved as national monuments. And local residents and legislators opposed these designations. The importance and value of these places has now spread well beyond the communities that border them to enrich our country and our planet.
Skepticism of a national park or monument is understandable in the Katahdin region, which until recently had mills producing tons of paper and plentiful jobs. But with those paper mills and jobs now gone, the region needs new life. Will future generations look back at this time and see a treasured national park’s difficult creation or a missed opportunity?
Nationally, areas surrounding national parks saw larger population gains between 1970 and 2010 than the United States as a whole — and certainly much more than rural Maine. These areas also outpaced the U.S. in income growth and employment gains.
Numerous studies show that people want to live in scenic places with ample recreational opportunities.
Rural Maine can attract people based on such assets, but people well beyond Maine must know they exist. Including these lands in a national monument will immediately increase their visibility and grow their appeal.
It should also be appealing to the park service that the land comes with a $40 million endowment, offering a new model of public-private support for land preservation.
Jarvis, who will attend meetings Monday in East Millinocket and Orono at the behest of Sen. Angus King, who asked the director to again come to Maine to hear what residents have to say, will hear diverse opinions about the national monument proposal. While there is vocal opposition in several communities near the proposed monument, it is important to remember that recent polling found that 67 percent of residents of Maine’s rural 2nd Congressional District said they support the creation of a national park on the EPI land.
We are encouraged that the National Park Service is doing its due diligence in considering this proposal, which we believe the Obama administration should find beneficial to Maine and the country.
You can share your thoughts with Jarvis and King at a public meeting at 5 p.m. Monday, May 16, in the Hauck Auditorium at the University of Maine.