by Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
MEDWAY, Maine — Town leaders will draft a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation endorsing the 150,000-acre North Woods national park and recreation area proposed by Lucas St. Clair.
The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 on Monday to draft the endorsement letter, saying that the park would be a tonic for the struggling Katahdin region economy. Selectman Rob Farrington was absent.
“You have to do something for the area. It is not getting any businesses,” Selectman Darrell Lyons said Thursday. “Tourism is the only thing that will create jobs.”
The son of millionaire entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, St. Clair has proposed creating a 75,000-acre national park and a 75,000-acre recreation area on family lands east of Baxter State Park by 2016, the National Park Services’ 100-year anniversary. His proposal follows a similar plan Quimby offered in 2011.
Park opponents have said they fear a park would bring federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries, generate only low-paying jobs and morph into a 3.2-million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s.
Proponents said a park would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills and coexist with existing industries.
St. Clair spokesman David Farmer called Medway’s actions encouraging.
“We are seeing support and interest in the park continues to grow and this action is an indication of that,” Farmer said Thursday. “We remain committed to having conversations with people about why the park is a good idea and to trying to answer their questions. It shows that there is new energy and new urgency to the idea.”
Medway is the third Katahdin region town looking to write a letter since Millinocket officials said on Feb. 7 that U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, had asked them to draft a letter of their requirements of a park should a federal bill be written proposing one. National parks are created by Congress, and the delegation has said it won’t draft a park bill without significant local support for it.
Millinocket and East Millinocket officials are drafting requirements letters. East Millinocket residents will also be asked to vote on whether they support the park during their town meeting on June 11. Bangor city officials are also mulling whether to support the park initiative.
The plan Quimby offered in 2011 met with almost universal rejection from Maine’s political establishment, including the delegation, but St. Clair’s low-key and conciliatory approach to the park initiative, and the closure of the Great Northern Paper Co. mill in East Millinocket, have helped gain the park some new endorsements.
Medway’s endorsement will be the second in the last three months. The Penobscot Indian Nation also endorsed the plan.
Lyons discussed on Thursday an element of the park proposal seldom mentioned in any great detail — the multi-use recreation area and the positive impact it will have on the Katahdin region. The area, he said, will significantly bolster the region’s vast snowmobile, ATV and other motorized recreation offerings.
“I think most people are worried about shutting land off and all the snowmobile trails go through that area,” Lyons said.
Medway has generally supported the park plan, although the disbanding in 2012 of The National Park Regional Citizen Evaluation Committee, which consisted largely of town leaders, muddied the waters somewhat. The group disagreed with Quimby over the direction the park plan was taking.
“The whole project has changed from what it was. It was in your face before,” but St. Clair’s approach has made officials much more comfortable, Lyons said.
Selectmen will sign the letter when they meet on Monday, town Administrative Assistant Kathy Lee said.