Friday, July 22, 2011
Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth
Unemployment is hovering around 20% in the Millinocket area. The paper mills are closed or about to close, store-fronts are shuttered, schools and roads are deteriorating, and homes are for sale. One sad little place I saw there last week had a hand-scribbled sign taped to the door that said, “home for sale by owner, $25,000 or best offer.”
Quimby wants to give 70,000 acres of wilderness to create a national park adjacent to Baxter State Park. The Millinocket region will be the “gateway community” to the park under her plan. She will also chip in a $40 million endowment for maintenance, and is considering also donating a large parcel for hunters and other sportsmen to use next door. Quimby says she is motivated by her passion for the outdoors, her desire to share her good fortune, and her wish to give kids a place to explore the wilderness.
The national park will attract hundreds of thousands of people to the area, increase real estate values, create jobs, grow income and a declining population, and greatly expand the local tax base. People who lost their job at the mills will have the opportunity to start or work for a business that will support the park. Restaurants, lodging, service stations, and retail stores will be needed. Housing will be built. There will be a demand for professional services.
No wonder the Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce, Millinocket Downtown Revitalization Committee, Friends of Baxter State Park, Medway School Board, and the Katahdin Area Rotary Club all support a feasibility study that will determine whether such an audacious and bold vision for their community is realistic.
The mountains, rivers, waterfalls and bogs in this so-called East Branch Region were Henry David Thoreau’s stomping ground in the 1850’s and close to where he wrote The Maine Woods. Here is where Maine Governor Percival P. Baxter camped and hung out in the 1920’s before he had his vision for Baxter State Park.
The East Branch Region is now home to rare plants such as blueberry lichen, purple clematis, fragrant ferns and orchids. Trees of every kind imaginable live here. Exotic dragonflies, butterflies, moose, deer and Canada Lynx keep each other company. Trout and salmon swim in the rivers. It’s therefore no surprise that one of Maine’s most recognized and respected sportsman supports studying the feasibility of making this spectacular biodiversity a national park for everyone to enjoy.
No one seriously disputes that Quimby’s park plan could boost the Millinocket area’s economy, while generously bestowing on the people of this country and the world a precious gift. And Roxanne Quimby and her company, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., bring considerable business acumen to the table.
Anybody who has ever purchased a Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer will yell you this lady knows what she is talking about. Hugely respected Maine visionary Daniel O'Leary has this to say about Quimby:
"She is the first person I have ever known who is fully aware of the deep solidarity among the different facets of life in Maine," he said. "She understands the linkage among the family farms, the importance of preserving wilderness, the value of the arts, the role of the creative economy, and how all of those things working together lead to job creation."
So what’s the problem?
Politics are coming before We the People of Maine.
The Maine Senate President, in the final hot days of the recent legislative session, ramrodded a Joint Resolution opposing not only the park, but studying the feasibility of a national park through the Maine Legislature.
The resolution opposing the park was likely engineered in a back room by an anti-government Tea Partier, or a corporate special interest group.
Part of the resolution reads:
“federal ownership or control of the north woods would create many problems including limitations on timber supply to the forest products industry, reduced recreational access and loss of local and state control of these areas.”
Really? Says who?
Governor LePage, whose legislative agenda has been written by corporate lobbyists, had this to say about Quimby’s proposal for a national park, "our forest needs to be a working forest. I'm all for conservation. I'm against preservation."
Something is wrong with this picture. Why is the Governor of Maine against preserving this privately owned land for public access? This is where Thoreau and Baxter wandered around contemplating the enormous benefits of being in the wilderness, for heaven’s sake.
An equally perplexing question is how Quimby maintains her patience and composure in the face of fear, ignorance and cronyism, but she does. Maybe it’s the Peppermint Foot Lotion.