REFLECTIONS FROM THE NORTHEAST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
A National Treasure in Maine Deserves National Support And National Attention
Alexander R. Brash, NE Regional Director, NPCA
Bringing great ideas and great projects to fruition is never easy, and creating a great new national park is a process fraught with skepticism and acrimony, especially among the communities surrounding the new site. But as filmmaker Ken Burns recently noted, “We not only have saved these places; they have saved us.” History has proven him right, and most all Americans now appreciate such national treasures as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Everglades, and Acadia.
None of these parks were initiated by our government; rather all saw their start from a collection of interested individuals—people who worked tirelessly behind the scenes for years to conceive of these places, publicize them, and then advocate for their preservation. Thomas Meagher, Cornelius Hedges, and Ferdinand V. Hayden fought to create Yellowstone, Galen Clark and Senator John Conness pushed for Yosemite, Harold Bailey and Ernest Coe advocated for the Everglades, and Laurence Rockefeller blessed us with Acadia, St. Johns, and the Grand Tetons.
For the past two decades, there has been another such effort underway. Roxanne Quimby, Kate Barnes, Jym St. Pierre, Richard Russo, and other Maine residents have been advocating for a new national park in Maine. The proposed park would not only capture the essence of the North Woods but also boost the state’s economy by creating new jobs. As George Neavoll, a former editor with the Portland Press Herald wrote: “Establishing a national park with the world-class attributes of a Moosehead Lake, soaring Mount Kineo, fabled Allagash River and primeval Debsconeag Lakes could also spur the economic revitalization of northern Maine. Millinocket, Greenville and Jackman would become gateways to a region rivaled only in Alaska. The foundering forest products industry would be supplemented with new jobs and new businesses created to serve a public drawn to some of the grander scenery on Earth.” Economic studies have already shown that the establishment of a national park in Maine’s North Woods would benefit the state’s and region’s economy.
While this idea has long been greeted with skepticism if not scorn in Maine, a public poll published this summer shows that the tide has turned in Maine and that:
• 89 percent of voting Maine residents have visited the North Woods and enjoy them for hiking, camping, fishing, and sightseeing;
• 78 percent would prefer that the Maine Woods be kept as a mixture of timber land and parks;
• 75 percent of the voters support setting aside 10–20 percent of the Maine Woods for a public park; and
• 77 percent support the creation of a new type of national park that is created in partnership with the state of Maine.
The time has now come for this homegrown endeavor to emerge from Mount Katahdin’s shadows, with a goal of launching this new park in time for the National Park System’s Centennial in 2016. It is clear this proposed park will need help from those beyond the state’s borders. As one may see in the map, vast areas outside of Baxter State Park that should be core elements of a park, are owned by corporate America. Therefore, we will need to specifically work with and encourage KeyCorp in Cleveland, John Hancock in Boston, Plum Creek in Seattle, and both Katahdin Timberlands and the Pingree Associates from Maine to work together with park champions, the State of Maine, the Department of the Interior and Congress to delineate and transfer sufficient land to create a great national park in Maine.
Indeed, in order to make this park happen, federal support will have to come into play, and as Karen Herold of Cumberland, Maine, recently wrote: “We will need to seek federal help to fund protection for a solution that embraces more public lands, and includes federal, state, public, and private participation. With a rational and open discussion, landowners, Maine government, interest groups, and the public can find a way to protect the North Woods.’ We agree with Karen, and hope that in Maine, as in other efforts to preserve the last of America’s great landscapes, willing owners can be brought together with federal support and local sentiment to create a great park. We too believe a national treasure deserves national support.
It seems a fitting goal that what might be the last great terrestrial park in the east, that could be added to the National Park System, should be done so in time for the Park Service’s 100th birthday. What a present! But if it is to be accomplished, the five years ahead are but a slip of time, considering the work that needs to be done. It will be necessary to determine the boundaries of the park, seek land transfers and gifts, and even make outright purchases from willing sellers that will complement what little public land now exists.
The time is at hand to move forward with this opportunity to preserve a great swath of Maine’s North Woods. If we don’t save this landscape now, we will awake one morning to find that the special places that Mainers and visitors cherish will have been irrevocably lost as distant corporate owners seeking to maximize their profits have quietly rezoned the woods for vacation homes and resorts. The window to save this last great landscape, replete with its beauty, wildlife, and historical heritage, is closing fast.