A proposal for a national monument in northern Maine on donated property and an endowment totaling $40 million is “absolutely unprecedented” and could fill a niche in the nation’s park system, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said Monday.
Jarvis returned to the state to listen to Mainers’ concerns about the concept, indicating the Obama administration is considering the proposal.
Critics remain distrustful of a National Park Service-maintained property and fear it would hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy. But supporters say it could provide some jobs in an economically troubled region that needs them.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, who invited Jarvis, said he’s gone from being adamantly opposed to skeptical to willing to listen to the idea.
“I’m not prepared to say … no to something that will have a positive contribution” to the economy, the independent senator told a forum in East Millinocket.
The 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park is owned by a foundation created by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby. Her proposal calls for donating the land valued at $60 million along with $20 million to get it started. Another $20 million would be raised within three years.
Quimby went public with her bold plan in 2011 and wants to see it become a reality this year during the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service.
Because of congressional opposition, the only way her goal can be achieved is if the land is declared a national monument by President Barack Obama. Many national parks like Maine’s Acadia National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park started with monument status.
On Monday, Jarvis started his day at a breakfast sponsored by Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports the monument proposal, before getting a largely negative reception from local political leaders in East Millinocket. He capped off his listening sessions with a friendlier audience at the University of Maine.
He assured local leaders and residents the park service works with local communities and that a monument wouldn’t interfere with local economic efforts, either by placing restrictions on nearby land or by imposing air quality standards that stymie certain industries. But he acknowledged afterward that he can’t fully alleviate the concerns of people who distrust the federal government.
Under the proposal, hunting and snowmobiling would be prohibited on most of the land, but those activities would be allowed on 12,500 acres east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River in a compromise aimed at appeasing people who want access to woodlands for those activities.
“Outdoor recreation is part of the heritage and the culture of our state. And we’ve made sure that the activities that we all care about will be permanently protected,” Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son who’s marshaling the proposal, told a packed auditorium at the University of Maine.
St. Clair said a national monument isn’t a silver bullet to the region’s problems. “But a major recreational attraction in the interior of northern Maine can be part of a new economic foundation that will create opportunities for new businesses to start and existing businesses to grow,” he said.
Jarvis said there’s nothing in the national park service inventory that represents Maine’s North Woods forest and that the property would be a welcome addition, especially with private funding that means the acquisition wouldn’t contribute to a national park service’s maintenance backlog.
He said the scenery is amazing with mountains, lakes and streams.
“People that live in these area sometimes take for granted how beautiful it really is. Somebody from another part of the country will find it stunning and beautiful,” he said.