We are pleased that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is visiting the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and surrounding area as part of his assignment from President Donald Trump to review 27 recently created monuments. It is important for him to meet with area residents firsthand and to spend time exploring the monument land himself before making a recommendation to the president.
The Maine monument is under review because Gov. Paul LePage convinced Trump that there wasn’t enough public discussion of the land preservation and that local residents don’t want it.
LePage is wrong on both counts. There were dozens of public meetings, presentations and hearings about Elliotsville Plantation Inc.’s plan to forever preserve the land it owned by donating it to the federal government. LePage even testified at some of those hearings. In addition, the foundation’s president, Lucas St. Clair, had hundreds of conversations with residents of the Katahdin region, local property and business owners, and others. EPI’s plans for the land changed as a result of these meetings. For example, an agreement between EPI, the Maine Snowmobile Association, the state and others means permanent access to snowmobile trails that cross the monument is guaranteed. The National Park Service has already improved several bridges on these trails.
To dispel the false notion that local people don’t want the monument, Zinke must meet with local business owners and residents, who will explain that the monument, which has existed for less than a year, has already had a tangible positive impact on the Katahdin region. While he is at Twin Pine Camps on Thursday, he should ask owner Matt Polstein about how bookings are up substantially since the monument’s designation, which has drawn new visitors to the area. During his meeting with the Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce, real estate agents will tell the secretary that properties are finally selling, a welcome change from the stagnation that characterized the region for years.
Zinke should find time in his schedule to meet with Millinocket Town Councilor Jesse Dumais, who opposed the monument but is now a strong supporter because of the money and positive energy it has brought to the area. “I am in fear of other investments not coming to the area if it is rescinded,” Dumais told the BDN last month. He said the monument should not have been included in the list of those being reviewed. “In my personal opinion, we have had adequate input,” he said, noting that LePage came to Millinocket to testify against it at a staged hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee, where only opponents spoke.
It would be worthwhile for Zinke to meet with Stephen Stanley, the Democratic state representative from Medway who sponsored a symbolic bill to strip the president of the authority to designate monuments in Maine. He, too, now supports the monument. “The only concern I have now is when it became a monument, people started investing money in the area,” Stanley said. “What do we do with all these people who are investing on projects right now?”
Multiple polls taken throughout 2015 and 2016 showed the majority of Mainers supported the idea, including 67 percent in the rural 2nd Congressional District. A poll conducted after the establishment of the monument found that support had risen to 72 percent, again with two-thirds of the 2nd Congressional District supporting it.
As part of its review process, the Interior Department is collecting public comments on the Katahdin monument and the 26 others. As of Tuesday, nearly 11,000 people had posted online comments about the Maine monument.
Beyond all these logical reasons to leave Maine’s monument as it is, Zinke should also experience the beauty and solitude of the monument lands. As he paddles a canoe on the East Branch of the Penobscot River and hikes one of the monument’s trails, he, too can feel the restorative power of these lands, as did Henry David Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt and the Wabanaki for centuries before. At Lunksoos Camps, the secretary can imagine the excitement and disbelief when 12-year-old Donn Fendler emerged from the woods after being lost for nine days in 1939.
The Katahdin Woods and Waters Monument was a wonderful gift to the people of Maine and the world. LePage doesn’t recognize this, but we believe the secretary of interior will after his visit.