By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The increasingly active campaign to convince Mainers that a proposed north woods national park and recreation area should become a reality will hold another informational session next week.
Organizers have scheduled the event at Schenck High School at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16. It is part of plans to “begin a greater level of outreach to the people who would be participating” in an East Millinocket town meeting vote on the park plan on June 11, said David Farmer, spokesman for park proponent Lucas St. Clair.
Schenck “is also central in the region so that people can come and learn about the park,” Farmer said Wednesday. “It [the event] is not limited to East Millinocket folks.”
Medway town officials have said they support the park, while Millinocket’s Town Council has opposed it and opposed a nonbinding straw poll that would seek its residents’ opinion on the subject in June. Those actions came after Millinocket officials said on Feb. 7 that U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, had sought their requirements for supporting a national park.
An opponent of the park effort, Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore, said he fears that park opponents will get outworked by park advocates. His effort to get the council on Thursday to again discuss holding a June referendum failed, he said.
Millinocket leaders “are trying to go ahead and stall the ball and [park proponents] are putting on a full-court press. Eventually people are going to wonder why they haven’t heard more from the anti-park side,” Madore said Wednesday. “We are sitting on our hands, those of us who oppose the park, as far as the public views it. Is that the case? No, but that’s how it looks.”
St. Clair proposes to donate family lands east of Baxter State Park to create a 75,000-acre national park and a same-sized multi-use recreation area as a gift to the nation. His proposal follows a similar plan his mother, millionaire industrialist Roxanne Quimby, offered in 2011. That year, East Millinocket residents voted 513-132 against supporting a feasibility study of her proposal.
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, be heavily controlled by local leaders and coexist with existing industries. They say that the park service would draw worldwide tourist support and that the recreation area would guarantee continued if not improved sportsmen’s access in the region.
Opponents have said they fear a park would bring more federal authority into Maine, cramp the state’s forest products industries with tighter air-quality restrictions, generate only low-paying jobs, restrict sportsmen’s access to the Katahdin region and eventually morph into a 3.2-million-acre park plan offered in the 1990s.
They also express skepticism about the positive economic benefits that proponents say the park would create, call the park plan vague and doubt that the land is attractive enough for a park. Proponents have said that initial land reviews by the park service have been very favorable and the endowments would pay for park maintenance.
The importance of the Katahdin region supporting the proposal was underlined on March 31, when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would reconsider her opposition only if the “people of the region believe that their future lies in a national park.”
“Right now, I don’t hear that kind of consensus. I hear a lot of division about what the future of the Katahdin region should be,” Collins said.
St. Clair has said that he supports the park being created through legislation that would be proposed by the state’s congressional delegation, not an executive order signed by President Obama. Such legislation is unlikely to be offered or succeed without the delegation’s support.
St. Clair’s organization will be stepping up its efforts to sell the park proposal statewide and in the region. Its members will keep working in Millinocket in the hope of changing minds, Farmer said, although a list of park requirements Medway and East Millinocket officials assembled — and St. Clair agreed to — already carries many Millinocket officials’ concerns.
“We think Millinocket stands to benefit greatly from a park and we would like to work with them in partnership to make that happen,” Farmer said.
The organization has hired Shelley Farrington, a Lincoln News reporter and former school board member, to act as a Millinocket representative of the park effort. It ran radio advertisements, hosted a telephone town hall on April 1 that drew about 5,200 participants, and placed robocalls to several thousand town hall participants seeking their feedback earlier this week, Farmer said.
Another telephone town hall will be scheduled. No date has been set, Farmer said.