By Sheridan Steele and W. Kent Olson, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Paul Haertel, Marla O’Byrne and the two of us represent a century-plus as park officials and nonprofit conservation executives. Below we address questions about a proposal by philanthropists to create a new national park in Maine. They would donate a $60-million property and provide a $40-million endowment.
Q: How many national parks does Maine have?
A: Three: St. Croix, Appalachian Trail, Acadia. New Brunswick’s Roosevelt Campobello, off Lubec, is funded 50/50 by our park service and Canada’s. So, Maine claims 3.5 national parks in or near its borders. Another would make it 4.5.
Q: What does it mean to live near a national park?
A: Perpetual access plus community involvement in management. Private ownership guarantees neither. Acadia and its towns are intermixed. Mount Desert treasures its hometown gem. Villages and park staff collaborate. Volunteers last year contributed 40,000 work hours. Friends of Acadia’s 4,300 members donated $1.5 million, and the organization has developed $25 million in private investments that benefit Acadia in perpetuity.
Q: Isn’t northern Maine relatively free of federal involvement?
A: Besides 3.5 national parks, the region has national wildlife refuges at, for example, Moosehorn, Aroostook, Sunkhaze, Petit Manan and Umbagog. Federal funds have helped buy golf courses, horseshoe pits, seesaws, baseball diamonds, plus easements on thousands of working timberland acres. Interstate 95 and Route 1 are U.S. arteries. Past military bases include Loring, Dow and Schoodic. For more than a century, the Coast Guard has protected Maine’s 3,000-mile saltwater frontier. Government uses our money to supply our Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veterans hospitals, National Guard, insured savings and student loans, weather stations, FBI and our national parks.
Because we ask it to.
Mainers get back nearly $2 for every $1 in federal taxes. No one is diminished, everyone is bettered. By not monetizing “national park,” the world’s classiest marketing label, the Katahdin region undercuts itself.
Q: And opponents?
A: Minority factions fought Acadia, Baxter, Allagash, Bigelow, and Wildernesses at Moosehorn and in the White Mountain National Forest’s Maine holdings — assets today revered.
Scientific polls demonstrate 100 percent consistency: Maine emphatically favors the new park. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s district backs it 67 percent to 25 percent regardless of respondent age, gender, party, political philosophy and income — anyone’s landslide. If Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, endorsed by Rep. Chellie Pingree, introduced a bill to create the park, a landslide would propel it.
Q: Will the timber economy be harmed?
A: The site represents a miniscule percentage of Maine forestlands and is already managed for nontimber purposes. Nationwide, public and private forests coexist because their managers concur in a critical objective: improve local economies.
Q: Will the park replicate Acadia’s financial benefits?
A: Acadia tallied 2.5 million visits in 2014. Users spent $220 million in Maine, funding 3,400 jobs. Nothing like that is likely. An initial money bump will occur. Entrepreneur investment will build slowly. Because visitation numbers will become predictable, businesses that plan well will do well.
Q: Is the land designation-worthy?
A: Yes. Our 409 national parks feature wilderness (Yosemite), swamps (Everglades), battlefields (Gettysburg), byways (Washington), homes (John Adams), rivers (Rio Grande), invention (Thomas Edison), islands (Boston), literature (Edgar Allan Poe), seashores (Cape Cod), labor (Rosie the Riveter), trails (Natchez Trace), forts (Sumter), trees (Redwoods), democracy (White House), memorials (Flight 93), advancement (Martin Luther King Jr.), sacredness (Canyon de Chelly), tragedy (Ford’s Theater) and cityscapes (Golden Gate). These are dedicated grounds that range from immense (13.2 million acres, Wrangell) to handkerchief dimensions (0.02 acres, Kosciuszko).
Maine’s future park, four Acadias in extent, augments this diverse patrimony, with undeveloped forests, five rare plant species, seven pristine ponds, silver maple floodplains, animals little observed in many states and geologic features including eskers and Grand Pitch. The place has Wabanaki significance, manifest wildness and cheek-and-jowl adjacency to our alpine apogee, the Katahdin massif.
Thanks to a New World original, Henry David Thoreau, the East Branch Penobscot, which bisects the area, is storied in American literature. It has thrilling rapids, and its free-flowing tributaries — Wassataquoik, Seboeis — can support ocean-run salmon. All are AA rivers, Maine’s top water classification. Anglers, paddlers, campers, hikers, skiers and others experience restorative contact with nature.
A $100-million gift is ripe for transfer to all Americans.
National parks express patriotism, “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Philanthropy means “love of humankind generally.” We the people better ourselves by sharing, with generations ahead, terrain named, perhaps, Henry David Thoreau National Park.
No. 4.5 for Maine.
Paul Haertel and Sheridan Steele are retired superintendents of Acadia National Park. Marla O’Byrne and Ken Olson are former presidents of Friends of Acadia. Their opinions are their own.