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Monday December 18, 2017
Posted: Mar 03, 2015

Is the North Woods national park idea gaining favor?

Up Country

For a while, the idea for a national park in Maine’s North Woods was a popular idea in much of the state — except the area it’d be in. But that could be changing.

In June, East Millinocket will take an advisory vote on whether its residents want a park established on 75,000 acres of land nearby owned by businesswoman Roxanne Quimby and her son, Lucas St. Clair, according to our media partners at WLBZ. In 2011, townspeople rejected a feasibility study of the park by a 4-to-1 margin.

But the proposal has changed in four years: St. Clair has taken over the marketing effort for the park plan, which would allow snowmobiling and fishing, along with hunting in certain areas. A main concern of opponents was that those activities could be lost if the land was taken over by the federal government.

Economic circumstances have changed as well: An East Millinocket paper mill closed in 2014, laying off 200, and that town’s unemployment rate was at or above 20 percent in five months of 2014.

The plan has won favor among selectmen in nearby Medway, who will endorse the park plan in a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation, according to the Bangor Daily NewsU.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who told The New York Times in 2014 that he was “opposed and skeptical but listening” on the park, has asked Millinocket to submit a list of conditions under which they would support a park plan.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican, said he was opposed to the park during his 2014 campaign for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. In a statement last week, he had a subtle change in rhetoric:

“It is critical that we increase economic development and opportunities for Maine families to enjoy the outdoors, not harm jobs or outdoor recreation. Fishing, hunting, hiking and snowmobiling are Maine traditions we need to uphold. Once our local communities outline their conditions for the current proposal of a national park, I will be certain to meet with local officials and review their plan.”

During the 2014 campaign, Poliquin’s opponent, Democrat Emily Cain, said she “could see a path” for a park, and she is being pushed to run again in 2016. Her primary opponent, Troy Jackson, who has said he may run again in 2016, opposed it.

But the two other Democrats considering a 2016 run for Poliquin’s seat, Ben Sprague and Joe Baldacci of the Bangor City Council — which will soon consider its own resolve indicating support for the park — are strongly on board. Baldacci said it would “lead to the creation of jobs.”

“To be able to preserve this land into perpetuity for future generations is a gift that I don’t think we would regret,” Sprague said in an email. “I think public opinion is shifting from resistance to openness and ultimately to support for this plan.”

In the most favorable circumstances, a park is years off, and it would take an act of Congress and lots of planning and study before then. But recent developments are showing it’s not the stinking political issue that it used to be in the places it’ll affect most.

 

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