By Rick Levasseur, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Prior to traveling to East Millinocket with congressmen from Utah and Arkansas for a congressional field hearing and public forum on the proposed Maine Woods National Monument, Rep. Bruce Poliquin said, “The local people need to be heard.” His colleagues then invited to their official field hearing only people opposed to the monument, the majority of them from outside the Katahdin region.
Unlike them, I am actually a local voice.
I was born in East Millinocket and now live in the unorganized territories just outside Millinocket. I’ve been a snowmobiler in the Katahdin region for 51 years, have been grooming local trails for 29 years, have been president of the Jo Mary Riders for 15 years and was chairman of the Maine Snowmobile Advisory Council for six years. I know better than most that snowmobiling plays a critical role in the Katahdin region’s economy.
My own business, 5 Lakes Lodge, depends on snowmobiling. We provide major support for the grooming of the trails and we recognize the need for a snowmobile corridor across the Elliotsville Plantation-owned lands proposed as a national monument.
But this issue was resolved in 2007 through negotiations involving the town of Millinocket, the Maine Snowmobile Association, the State of Maine and EPI. Those negotiations led to an access agreement addressing land currently owned by EPI and future lands it acquires. The agreement is permanent, irrevocable and is tied to the land — not its owner. That means it is binding on the parties and their respective successors, including the National Park Service. That agreement is held by the state. It is therefore baffling that both the governor and Bob Meyers, head of the Maine Snowmobile Association, had the nerve to come to East Millinocket and say that the industry will be harmed by a monument or park designation.
Poliquin obviously has a very high opinion about what Meyers and Gov. Paul LePage think, since his Republican colleagues invited both of them to speak at a meeting titled “Elevating Local Voices.” But neither represents the views of the local snowmobile clubs, four of which support the proposal. Meyers, who is not from around here, has been falsely claiming that Roxanne Quimby closed the snowmobile trail to the Lookout. But we, the local people and businesses involved in these trails, know that the Bowlin/Matagamon/Shin Pond Club voted to close the trail. The easement was still in place, but the trail was shut down.
After the congressmen from other states, the governor and lobbyists got their spotlight, those of us who actually live here were finally allowed to speak at a public forum. Nearly 50 of us, every one a person who lives here, from former paper workers to snowmobilers to hunting camp owners to teachers and retired rangers, spoke directly to Poliquin with impassioned support for the monument. Only 12 people spoke in opposition, one of whom is an Augusta lobbyist for the forest products industry.
Professor Sam Winch wrote in a recent BDN OpEd, “Big changes — such as the establishment of a national park — are pretty much always messy, typically with a small and vocal opposition to change and the uncertainties associated with it. But history shows us the parks are adored by people from everywhere, who bring their tourist dollars and create huge economic benefits. We shouldn’t let the fears of the locals stop the changes that benefit everyone. It’s called progress.”
At Poliquin’s hearing the “fears of the locals” were not on display. Instead, monument supporters came out of the woodwork just as we, and 1,200 people from around Maine, did at Sen. Angus King’s Orono meeting with National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, to show support for change, support for progress.
We overwhelmed the few naysayers, including the governor, who apparently didn’t think the views of the locals were worth hearing and left after his own speech.
In other words, we elevated our voices.
Our congressional delegation keeps talking about the necessity for local people to be heard. Now that local people and the rest of Maine have spoken so clearly that we want a national monument, when will King and Poliquin publicly endorse the proposal?
Rick LeVasseur is owner of 5 Lakes Lodge on South Twin Lake in T4 Indian Purchase. He is a former owner of Katahdin Shadows Campground and Katahdin Shadows Motel in Medway, and he started and ran Penobscot River Outfitters from 1988 to 2003.