I gently slid my hand over the photograph and stood in awe as I looked around, excited to be in the same building as my Great Uncle Felix Fernald had been during the romantic era of the Maine Northwoods Lumbermen. Ok, he was actually a time-keeper there, but to my young imagination he was a river runner, riding down the rivers on the log drives of the spring and living the high life of a Maine woodsman and he had worked in the very building I was now standing in.
I was on a Boy Scout canoeing and camping trip,it was my first time exploring the North Woods of Maine, and we were at Seboomook High Adventure Base at Pittston Farm which is now a motel, restaurant and camping area. But back then, it was my gateway to the Maine woods, and as we paddled down the west branch of the Penobscot River and went over Roll dam in just a lifejacket, the lure of Northern Maine was born in me, and that week we explored the river I was a river driver on the spring freshet.
I have explored a lot of Northern Maine since that day, and one of the things I have always enjoyed is looking for bits of it’s history, especially it’s logging history. I was fascinated with the locomotives and the tramway on the Allagash River and I especially enjoyed reading about the hermit on Chesuncook Lake, which I wrote about in The Chesuncook Lake Gun. Northern Maine is timeless history…it is the same as it always was.
What images does Northern Maine conjure up for you? Maine has always been a state of rough wilderness with people known for their self reliance, individuality, ruggedness, and a sense of independence. People come here to experience the rougher end of wilderness living. The adventures people have in Maine are chronicled in countless books and magazines. A wilderness experience is what Northern Maine is all about, and that experience for most includes some sort of “traditional use”.
When it comes to the people of Maine, you hear the words “traditional use” a lot. But what does traditional use really mean? For me, it has it’s origins from an unwritten Wilderness code of ethics among early woodsmen which basically stated that – my cabin is unlocked. Should you find yourself in need of it for the night, please use it. Replace the firewood that you use. Leave food if you can, and leave it in as good or better condition than you found it. Those were the beginnings of traditional use. And to some extent it still exists today. It’s funny, when I bought property in Greenbush, there were 9 lots that were for sale, about 40 acres each. Within a short amount of time, 7 lots had no trespassing signs on them, and two did not. Guess which lots were purchased by Mainers. My property there will, as long as I live, remain unposted, and it made me happy a few years ago to hear a brace of beagles in the cedar bog on the lower end of the property chasing a rabbit. Also, Maine still has the rather unique rule that if property is not posted, then a person has the right to access it, unless asked to leave by the landowner. Folks not from here sometimes have a problem grasping that. Traditional use also means access for hunting, fishing,trapping, and in later years snowmobiling.
The paper companies including Great Northern understood the woodsman rules and traditional access and left there land open to it. You could do pretty much whatever you wanted, as long as you stayed out of the way of the logging trucks. I have a picture somewhere of me standing under the trailer of one of the Great Northern tandem wood haulers on the Golden Road – truly a leviathan of the woods.
Lately I fear for Maine and the changes that people are trying to make here to further their own agendas. Maine has been dividing for some time across North and South boundaries….and the phrase The Two Maines is more meaningful than ever. So, if you are reading this from a place south of Bangor, and have never visited Northern Maine I challenge you to take a road trip – Visit the Allagash and St John – take the woods roads from Portage to Madawaska and see for yourself the vastness of the region. Find out for yourself that it is open for everyone to use, whether you are a hunter, or a cross country skiier.
One of the changes that has been proposed off and on since the 193o’s is a Northern Maine National Park. Northern Maine doesn’t need a National Park – why? Because they already HAVE one – it’s called The North Maine Woods Inc. Imagine! Landowners working together to allow traditional access and traditional use – biking, hiking, skiing, hunting, ITS snowmobile trails, leases for your very own cabin, fishing, trapping, or just hanging out doing what you want. THAT my friend is Democracy at it’s finest. Landowners working together for the greater good of everybody. Reasonable fees, maintained roads, boat launches. It’s almost a utopia. And it WORKS. If you haven’t been, you should visit before you ever make a decision in your mind about a National Park there. Speaking of which, think about it -would you really want the increased regulation, increased law enforcement, and closure of traditional use and access?? Why would anybody want to change to that??
The latest person to want to change that is Roxanne Quimby, who has proposed a National Park on her property abutting Baxter State Park, which most people feel, as do I, should she be successful it will be a toe hold for the 3.2 million acre park that Restore has proposed. Roxanne herself describes the approximately 60,000 acre parcel as a “seed”. And yes, I at one time sported the bumper sticker that said Restore Boston – Leave Our Maine Way of Life Alone! I think those stickers should, and probably will be making a comeback here shortly.
And, I have a little secret to share with you that most people do not know about Baxter – One of the reasons Governor Percival Baxter created Baxter State Park was to STOP IT FROM BECOMING A NATIONAL PARK. Governor Baxter had the vision to know back in the 30′s that a National Park in that region was not the right thing to do. Baxter Park is for the people of Maine. And, if you are from Maine it is FREE TO ACCESS!! Camping of course is a small fee per night. I think I would be waiting a long time at the Acadia National Park tollbooth arguing that I should get in for free because I’m local.
And you know, I probably wouldn’t have a problem if Roxanne donated her parcel to Baxter Park – in fact, I would urge her to consider it if she is intent on preserving her piece of property. Baxter is self sufficient, they do not take money from the state. And guess what – Baxter State Park understands Traditonal Use. That’s right, you are allowed to hunt in the north end of the Park. Personally, I could live with the changes that giving her parcel of land to Baxter would bring, and I would urge Roxanne to consider it, but she won’t because her goal is the 3.2 million acre National Park.
Why? To use her words; “I feel like my reason for being put on this earth will have been fulfilled because this ( a National Park in Maine) will live on after me. A park is a demonstration that there is something in America that I can love.”
That is why she wants a National Park – to be famous and to be remembered. Another George Dorr if you will. She wants a legacy which sadly will only be the division and turmoil that she has brought to the people of Maine with this issue, whether she succeeds or not.
Further – I find it extremely ironic that, to use her words, “To me, ownership and private property were the beginning of the end in this country. Once the Europeans came in, drawing lines and dividing things up, things started getting exploited and over-consumed. But a park takes away the whole issue of ownership. It’s off the table; we all own it and we all share it. It’s so democratic.”
Seriously??? No really… Seriously??? From where I’m sitting, the North Maine Woods is open to me any time I want to visit, and to do whatever I want to do by a group of landowners working together..in DEMOCRACY. The only person I see dividing lines, dividing things up, and closing access is Roxanne herself. You can see what some of her property closure looks like here, And a lot more information regarding Roxanne here.
A National Park in no way takes away the issue of ownership. It means the Federal government owns it. The Federal Government that can’t run any program successfully, that is mired in debt, and can’t even balance a budget. That’s who you want owning more land in Maine? I surely don’t.
Briefly, here are the reasons I think that another National Park in Maine is a ludicrous idea;
-first and foremost, traditional uses would be eliminated. Snowmobiling alone added 300 million + in sales tax revenue to the state. From the Bangor Daily News 11/23/11;
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said snowmobiling in Maine is a $300 million to $350 million business responsible for 23,000 jobs statewide.
That doesn’t include the tax figures on hunting supplies and income from other traditional access. Any income generated by a National Park will go out of state to the Feds, just like in Acadia.
- The tax base. Putting that land into the hands of the Feds means taxes are going to go up for Piscataquis county, and more counties if the larger National Park is successful.
- Lost Economy from the woods industry. Personally I don’t believe Millinocket is down and out yet. In the current economy we’re all suffering, and I think an interested buyer will eventually get the mills up there running again, and profitable. (Note that since first writing this post, someone has bought the mills and put them back in operation). To use the statistics from the Maine Woods Coalition website;
Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Ron Lovaglio stated at the Maine Woods Conservation Easement Forum that the wood products extracted from the 3.2 million acres of forestland in the Maine North Woods adds approximately $986,000,000 to the Maine economy each year through wages and sales of products and services. According to the Maine Office of Tourism, the typical overnight visitor to our region spends $85/day. To make up for the loss of productivity of locking up 3.2 million acres of forestland, a National Park would have to bring 11.6 million ADDITIONAL tourists to the region. Nothing the woods industry has ever done would have a greater impact to the rural character of Piscataquis County (population roughly 17,000) than such an increase in tourism. Commissioner Lovaglio wondered aloud how big the tollbooth would have to be in Kittery. In Greenville, we wonder how big the mound of trash will be each day at the rest area just outside of Town).
And I wonder how on earth you would get that many tourists to come to the region. Acadia attracts only 3 million per year and is one of the top visited Parks in the Nation. And lets face it, in the area Roxanne has proposed, what exactly is there that a tourist may want to see? I’ve lived a stone’s throw from Acadia National Park for most of my life, and it’s ACADIA – there are the carriage roads, vistas, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, lobsters, Bar Harbor…the tourist draw list for the region is endless. Acadia would be an attraction for tourists whether there was a Park here on not. Bar Harbor would be successful just like Camden or Rockland because of what we have here. Baxter is successful because of it’s uniqueness too – Katahdin of course being the biggest draw and the other unique mountains. What does Roxanne’s property, a working forest, have to offer that anyone would want to come see? People come there to hunt, fish and snowmobile…and use as timberland. Which a National Park would stop. In addition, Baxter Park and The Allagash have been showing a decline in users for some time now. A National Park isn’t going to stop that trend when there is nothing unusual or unique. There is certainly nothing there to compete with Baxter or Acadia.
And lets face it – any jobs brought to the area will be seasonal, just like they are here in Acadia. There are plenty of people here that struggle in the winter. Hence the old Bar Harbor joke – I landed here a number of years ago and never made enough money to leave.
In addition – the State Legislature has adopted a resolution against a feasibility study;
JOINT RESOLUTION MEMORIALIZING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, THE UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR AND THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO OPPOSE THE CREATION OF A NATIONAL PARK IN MAINE’S NORTH WOODS
WE, your Memorialists, the Members of the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Legislature of the State of Maine now assembled in the First Regular Session, most respectfully present and petition the President of the United States, the United States Secretary of the Interior and the United States Congress as follows: WHEREAS, Maine residents and visitors enjoy the privilege of using large tracts of private land in the north woods for recreational uses such as snowmobiling, hunting, hiking, fishing, bird watching and other activities; and WHEREAS, the future of that private land is of great importance to the people of Maine and their outdoor heritage; and WHEREAS, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and many of the large landowners have entered or are entering into cooperative wildlife management agreements that ensure the future of deer yards and other critical wildlife habitat in the north woods; and WHEREAS, state agencies, private landowners and nonprofit organizations are cooperating in an unprecedented effort to secure permanent rights of access to the north woods and keep valuable recreational property and natural habitat undeveloped through conservation easements; and WHEREAS, 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; now, therefore, be it RESOLVED: That We, your Memorialists, oppose the creation of a national park in Maine’s north woods and request that the President of the United States and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar deny requests to conduct a feasibility study concerning establishing a national park in Maine’s north woods; and be it further RESOLVED: That suitable copies of this resolution, duly authenticated by the Secretary of State, be transmitted to the Honorable Barack H. Obama, President of the United States, to the Secretary of the Interior, Kenneth Salazar, to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and to each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation.
And the Millinocket Town council has weighed in as well;
WHEREAS, Maine’s working forest has been the major economic force in northern Maine for over 400 years and is Maine’s leading industry; and,
WHEREAS, the creation of a national park in this part of the State would effectively eliminate a large portion of the forest products industry, cause a major collapse of the area’s economic base, and force the relocation of thousands of people needing new employment; and,
WHEREAS, Baxter State Park was created by former Governor Percival Baxter in part to thwart efforts in the 1930s to develop a national park in the area and his park has served this area well without the undue intrusion a national park and its regulations would cause; and,
WHEREAS, there are no outstanding characteristics or unique attractions outside Baxter to justify creation of a national park here; and,
WHEREAS, the private ownership of land and the public use of land is a Maine tradition and way of life worthy of preserving; and,
WHEREAS, the vast majority of people in this area clearly do not support such a national park;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Millinocket Town Council officially re-affirms the Town’s opposition to the creation of a new national park in northern Maine, and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Millinocket Town Council requests the Governor of Maine to affirm and the Members of the Maine Congressional Delegation to re-affirm their opposition to such a national park.
In my mind no means no. But this issue is not going to go away you can be sure of that, and outside interests along with outside money will be here soon to champion it.
There is a lot to the National Park proposal story that you may not have thought about – educate yourself – please. Join or at least investigate the Maine Woods Coalition – look at their links page. Think about who has made statements against a National Park and why – what are their motivations? What is Roxanne’s motivation? Why wouldn’t she consider giving the land to Baxter? Who do you think really has Maine’s best interest at heart? Certainly Governor Baxter did.
Sign up for Dont fence me in. Read about Percival Baxter’s wild and free vision and realize he had the vision to know a National Park was a bad idea. Support the idea that those who close access to their property should pay higher taxes. Don’t fall for a narcissists’ agenda, or the minions that have. Look at Roxanne’s past actions including taking her business and jobs out of state. We can and will weather this, just as we as Mainers, have since the 30′s. Seriously think about it, and think about who has Maine’s best interest in mind.
Update 11/9/11 – I’m not sure how much clearer it can get than this;
EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Voters overwhelmingly opposed a National Park Service feasibility study of Roxanne Quimby’s proposed 70,000-acre national park, voting 513-132 against the idea in unofficial totals compiled late Tuesday, Town Clerk Erica Ingalls said.