by Gabriel Perkins
Sun Journal op-ed
If you look around the country, the history of national monuments and national parks shows a predictable arc. There is often loud opposition — at the beginning. We’ve seen it with some of this country’s greatest natural assets, including Acadia National Park, the Grand Canyon and even Yellowstone.
But then things change. Today, any effort to take these lands from the American people would be met with fierce resistance. I was reminded of this fact by V. Paul Reynolds’ recent column in the Sun Journal.
In August 2016, President Barack Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on donated private land east of Baxter State Park. The creation of the monument was controversial and there were loud voices, including Reynolds, who were opposed. Much of the opposition, however, was based on bad information and fear, which has been shown to be unfounded since the monument was created.
Snowmobiles are allowed on monument land. As we’ve gone through this snowmobile season, there’s been no loss of access; the National Park Service cooperated with local snowmobile clubs in redecking some snowmobile bridges.
The same is true for hunting. Some sportsmen claimed that the monument would cut off access for hunting. That just hasn’t happened.
By creating the national monument, access for these traditional activities has been permanently protected. There is also cross country skiing, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and fishing. All open to the public. All free.
But the benefits of the monument don’t stop there. Real estate prices are climbing in the Katahdin region and more homes are being sold. A new, $5 million private investment has been announced that will further build on the outdoor recreation economy. And CNN has named Katahdin Woods and Waters one of 17 places in the world to visit in 2017.
All that translates into new jobs, new growth and new opportunities.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument sets aside approximately 87,000 acres and guarantees that all of us will have access to the wonders of the area forever. The monument also comes with a $40 million endowment to help pay for operations and maintenance. A nonprofit friends group has formed to give local residents a voice in the monument and to raise additional private dollars to support programming and activities on the land.
Before the monument was designated, U.S. Sen. Angus King invited the director of the National Park Service to the state. He held meetings in the Katahdin region and in Orono. More than a thousand people attended the second meeting, the vast majority of whom supported the idea of a new monument.
I was one of the people who made the trip from my home in Western Maine to the have my voice heard. The meeting was thoughtful. The NPS Director, Jon Jarvis, answered every question that was asked and Mainers from all over the state showed that they support this incredible opportunity.
Since its creation, support has only grown. Former opponents are coming around, recognizing that people are buying property and investing in businesses because the national monument exists.
Yet, as would be expected, there are still a few vocal opponents, including Gov. Paul LePage. LePage has opposed the monument from the beginning, without ever visiting the land, meeting with residents of the region or taking the time to understand the positive impact that tourism and the roughly $100 million investment in the community could have.
Whether sincere (based upon fears that have already been shown to be unfounded) or out of political expediency, LePage wants to cast a shadow of doubt on the new monument. His actions are only hurting the people who live in the towns around the monument.
Maine and the nation have been given a great gift — an amazing, new national monument with incredible four-season outdoor activities available.
For those who really want to understand the monument, plan a visit. Stop by the Lumbermen’s Museum in Patten or the National Park Service office in Millinocket and pick up a map. Talk to people. Go for a hike or a bike ride. See the wonders of the East Branch of the Penobscot River for yourself. Once you do, you’ll know why people are buying property and investing in jobs, and why the travel magazines are telling the world to visit.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is already showing the promise that led to its creation.
It is time for our focus to move beyond the arguments of the past. It is time that we all work together to ensure that the monument is successful and can meet its fullest potential as a tourist destination and economic driver for all people.
Gabriel Perkins is the executive director of Mahoosuc Pathways, an organization dedicated to the building, maintenance and promotion of multi-use recreational trail systems in the western Maine. He lives in Bethel.