by Nick Sambides Jr.
An independent poll conducted by a Portland research firm shows that 60 percent of Mainers statewide support a National Parks Service feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed national park.
The Critical Insights poll, which covered many topics, was done in October. The Friends of the Maine Woods mentioned the poll in a public statement issued last week on its website, friendsofthemainewoods.org.
“We are building up momentum for our organization and in launching this movement, we thought it would be good to bring this poll to people’s attention,” state Sen. Cynthia Dill said Monday.
Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, is founder and president of the board of directors of Friends of the Maine Woods, an 1,800-member group that formed last month and supports Quimby’s proposed park.
Critical Insights describes itself as an independent, nonpartisan public opinion polling and market research firm based in Portland. Twice annually the firm does what it calls a comprehensive, statewide public opinion survey of registered voters covering many topics of interest to business, government and the general public, according to its website, criticalinsights.com.
In its most recent polling in October, Critical Insights interviewed 600 people selected randomly across the state from Oct. 18 to Oct. 23 and found that six out of 10 residents supported a feasibility study.
“Support is most likely to be observed among college educated, younger (18-34 years of age), residents of the Southern or Central regions and registered Democrats,” the report states. “Opposition is most prominent among Northern or Coastal residents and registered Republicans.”
To Dill, the report shows that “in a new economy, a solid majority of Maine residents want to explore new options,” she said in a statement. “A study of a national park in the north woods would be a cost-free way for the state to investigate a viable way to create jobs and economic diversity in an area of our great state that needs it.”
Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore, an opponent of Quimby’s proposed park and a feasibility study, wasn’t surprised that southern Mainers would tend to support a park more than northern Mainers do. Madore said he believes that most northern Mainers oppose a park and a feasibility study.
“There is no loss for them [southern Mainers], so to them it looks like a good thing,” Madore said. “To those who are directly impacted, I doubt if any polls would show 60 percent approval. I would not try to estimate a figure, but judging by what we who oppose a park have seen around the area here, there is nothing near a 60 percent approval of a national park.”
According to the Critical Insights poll, of the 60 percent who said they supported a park study, 36 percent said they strongly support a study and 24 percent said they somewhat supported it. Of the 31 percent who opposed a park study, 22 percent said their opposition was strong and 9 percent said they were somewhat opposed.
Another 9 percent of all poll respondents “didn’t know” about the park.
Madore, who is among those who object to Dill’s group, said the feelings of those directly affected by a park should outweigh others. Dill said the issue had statewide import and all voices should have equal weight.
Quimby, who owns about 59,000 acres in or near the Katahdin region, proposes to give to the park service 70,000 acres she owns or hopes to buy adjacent to Baxter State Park in 2016, the year of the service’s 100th birthday. She is pressing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar to authorize a feasibility study of the proposed park area and recently presented him with the results of the poll.
Costing about $250,000, a feasibility study would take years and assess the suitability of the land for inclusion among the 58 other national parks across the country, including a measurement of the park’s vast economic and sociologic impacts upon the Katahdin region, park service officials have said.
The Friends group also seeks a reconnaissance study, a less time-consuming and comprehensive $25,000 effort that would identify features within the land that would be suitable for a park, Dill said.
Feasibility studies typically require approval from a state’s congressional delegation, and three of the four members of Maine’s delegation, including U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-East Millinocket, have said they oppose it. Salazar has said he could order a reconnaissance study himself.
Gov. Paul LePage, the Legislature, the town governments and residents of East Millinocket and Millinocket and several recreation and forest products industry groups have opposed a park and a study.
The town of Medway and several environmental and Katahdin region business and civic groups support a study. Dill’s group is the first to publicly support a study and a park.
Proponents say a park would preserve a unique and lovely area of Maine, bolster the state tourism industry, create many jobs in a region that had a 17 percent unemployment rate in October, and would co-exist well with the area’s industries.
Opponents say a park could grow far beyond 70,000 acres, would introduce federal authority to an area that does not want it and could hamper the region’s forest products industry.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, who opposes a park, has countered Quimby’s push for a feasibility study by supporting an economic development study of northern Maine by a different federal agency that would include the national park issue like a chapter in a book.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said late last week that he will ask Snowe to drop the national park portion of her proposal. Government leaders in several towns surrounding the Katahdin region oppose a park and therefore don’t want to waste federal money on a study containing a park question, he said.
Dill said she couldn’t see ignoring Quimby’s generous offer. Her organization is in the early stages of planning an event next summer, possibly on some portion of the 59,000 acres Quimby owns, that would unite park proponents and help illustrate why a park would be beneficial to the state.
In response to Quimby’s proposal and Dill’s group, former Maine Senate President Charles Pray announced last week the formation of a group called the Trust for Responsible Economic and Environmental Stewardship for Maine.
Pray maintains the debate is too one-sided in favor of the park, and he envisions his group leading public and editorial meetings, a letter-writing campaign, attendance at pro-park meetings and interaction with Maine’s congressional delegation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.