Finding the best path

Last week, proponents of a plan to create a new national park in the Katahdin region delivered a petition containing the names of more than 13,000 supporters to members of Maine’s congressional delegation. Of the 13,580 signatures on the petition, only 2,750 were residents of Maine. Even were all the Maine signers enrolled to vote, they represent only three-tenths of one percent of the state’s voters.

Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby – whose admirable wish to leave a conservation legacy in Maine, including on Mount Desert Island – controls nearly 70,000 acres in the area desired by park proponents. But there are also landowners who control tens of thousands of acres of land in that area who oppose the creation of a national park.

Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, who manages some 120,000 acres that she owns in Maine, has been praised by sportsmen for re-opening portions of her land for hunting, ATV and snowmobile use. A national park designation could bring much of that to a halt. And federal control minimizes local input into management decisions that affect surrounding communities.

There has been some discussion about having Quimby’s lands east of Baxter State Park designated a national monument as a preliminary move. While creating a new national park requires an act of Congress, a monument can be created executive action of the president.

Before the president or Congress act, however, one important question first needs to be answered. Are those lands east of Baxter State Park so unique, their scenic attributes so exemplary, their resources so threatened that only federal ownership would provide the proper protection? Further, does creating a national park justify the eventual usurpation of private property owned by unwilling sellers and does that warrant the wholesale displacement of the multiple-use culture that has protected and cherished that land for generations?

Certainly the lofty heights of the Katahdin massif and surrounding lands in Baxter State Park are extraordinary. But they already are protected and wisely administered here in Maine.

That park’s founder, Gov. Percival Baxter, once wrote “No one feels more strongly against the federal government invading the state than I do … whatever parks we have in Maine in my opinion should be state rather than national parks.”

Proposing the creation of a national park conjures up visions of successful ventures – Acadia, Yosemite, Denali, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

But protecting Quimby’s lands in ways that respect Maine’s traditions will require wisdom and foresight. Creating a Maine –based entity would protect the culture, as well as the land, in Northern Maine.

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