Maine's new national monument is good for New England
Now that the secretary of the Department of the Interior has recommended that the national monument stay at its current size and within federal ownership, it's time for opponents of the designation to do exactly that and help the area make the most of a great opportunity.
We had hoped that moment would come after then-President Obama's order creating the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Aug. 24, 2016.
That order put in federal hands 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park owned by businesswoman and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, all but ending a years-long battle between supporters of what was originally conceived as a North Woods national park and those who saw federal ownership as a danger to the traditional way of life in the region, mostly as it has to do with logging, hunting and snowmobiling.
To be sure, many opponents in the region have since changed their tune, or at least become resigned to making the most of it. But much acrimony remains, not the least of which comes from the Blaine House.
Gov. Paul LePage has long been an opponent of Quimby and her proposal for her land, which she bought with the proceeds from the sale of her company, Burt's Bees.
In his usual style, that opposition has been loud, tireless — and light on facts.
He traveled to Washington, D.C., on the taxpayer's dime, to give thin, contradictory testimony against the monument designation. At one point, he called it a "mosquito area" that no one would want to visit, while praising the state park next door.
The governor also refused to put up highway signs for the monument, even as it began to attract visitors, and even though those signs could have been paid for by private funds.
LePage, along with 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, argued that the state should control the land, relinquishing all the prestige and marketing that come with a federal designation.
However, while visiting the site in June, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke praised the national monument.
He called federal ownership of the land "settled," and said he saw an opportunity to build "something different here," something "made in Maine" that takes into account all of the land's traditional uses.
That's something that Quimby's son, Lucas St. Clair, who has been leading the push for a national monument, has been saying since he took over for his mother. Hunting and snowmobiling are allowed on part of the land already, and Zinke and St. Clair have said that some level of timber harvesting could be, too.
That's a sensible solution that will go a long way toward winning over the opposition, most of which has been based on fear, not facts, but nonetheless comes from an honest place, and must be honestly addressed.
Time and experience will help — they already have. A year of modest success at the monument, which is far from a finished product, has changed minds in the Katahdin region, and given supporters much more concrete evidence on which to hang their support.
Now that Zinke has told President Trump that Katahdin Woods and Waters should not be changed, it's well past time for LePage to join the crowd and put all of the state's support behind this beautiful area.
It's time to turn the page on the divisive fight that pointlessly pitted industry vs. tourism, when both are needed. It's time to turn the page on the bitterness that fight has engendered, when it won't help reverse the decline of the area's economy.
It's time to turn the page on a new chapter for the Katahdin region, and get excited for what could be next.
— The Portland Press Herald
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