Top federal officials listen to local concerns; some recreation interests and property rights advocates see the plan as a federal land grab
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s been a while since the U.S. created a new national park, but there’s a move to do just that in the remote North Woods of Maine, where conservation advocates are backing an ambitious plan to protect an area bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and national park service director John Jarvis recently met with community leaders in Maine to hear what local residents think about a new park that would encompass some of the wildest territory in the northeastern U.S.
The big stretch of Maine north woods was owned by lumber companies for many years, but as the paper products industry declined, the land was parceled off. Now the concern is that much of the area could be subject to real estate speculation, including residential development.
“Maine’s North Woods supply a wide range of vital resources from which we all benefit, from its timber and forest products to its wildlife, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities,” Salazar said. “It is important to hear directly from local communities, tribes, and the residents of Maine on the possibility of designating a portion of the North Woods as a national park. We must consider not only the economic benefits that might come, but also how traditional uses of the land and Maine’s unique legacy of access to private property would be preserved.”
Roxanne Quimby, founder of the company Burt’s Bees, has proposed to donate approximately 70,000 acres of her private land to the National Park Service to form the new national park. Her lands lie to the east of Baxter State Park and are adjacent to the Penobscot River.
Quimby also purchased an additional 30,000 acres that she has offered to set aside for the State of Maine specifically for traditional uses such as snowmobiling and hunting.
“Over the last century, America’s 394 national parks have become economic engines for communities across the country,” said Jarvis, noting that 281 million people visited the national parks last year, generating $12 billion in visitor spending, and supporting 247,000 jobs. “The North Woods are, without question, a special place, and it is vital that we hear a wide range of views and feedback as we consider the idea that has been put forward.”
In the morning, Secretary Salazar, Director Jarvis, and Senator Collins visited L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Portland, Maine, to highlight the importance of outdoor recreation and investment in conservation of parks and other public lands.
In a blog post, the National Parks Conservation Association described the North Woods as the last great wilderness east of the Mississippi, where loons dive for crayfish and moose still outnumber people.
But the wild forests are increasingly dotted with no trespassing signs, as more and more of the land is bought by foreign companies, investment firms, and real estate developers.
So much land has changed hands in recent years that some conservation advocates believe if permanent land protection isn’t in place soon, much of the region could soon be subdivided. There are also concerns that the new landowners might want to limit traditional hunting, hiking, and snowmobiling access.
The proposed 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve would secure an area larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined and completely surround Baxter State Park and encompass the Hundred Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail.
The park would protect cold-water lakes and streams for brook trout, including the headwaters of five of the region’s most legendary rivers — the Allagash, Aroostook, Kennebec, Penobscot and St. John. The land would also protect one of biggest chunks of intact habitat for wildlife, including lynx, Atlantic salmon, and spruce grouse.
Many polls suggest that a majority of Maine residents would like to see Congress designate part of the enormous area as a national park.
Predictably, the idea also faces some opposition. Property rights advocates and some recreation groups (snowmobilers, first and foremost) see the park proposal as a federal land grab that would limit access.
Filed under: Environment, federal government, forests, national parks, recreation Tagged: | Environment, Maine North Woods national park, National Park Service, national parks, National Parks Conservation Association, public lands, Summit County News, Travel