|News & Updates
Park and Drive
Bangor Daily News Editorial
May 6, 2003
The reaction was predictable. An out-of-state group announces it has put together a star-studded panel to advocate for a Maine Woods National Park. Local residents say they don't need any Hollywood types telling them what's good for them: The likes of Robert Redford, Jane Goodall, Walter Cronkite, Buzz Aldrin and Christopher Reeve live in "an imaginary world" and don't know anything about the realities of life in Maine.
The problems in northern Maine, however, are not imaginary. The region is losing people - thousands a year. Its traditional industries - logging, papermaking, farming - have been dramatically scaled back and aren't likely to rebound soon. An alternative is clearly needed; even better, many alternatives.
Is a national park part of the answer? No one can say for certain, but what is worse is that even educated guesses are based more on emotion than evidence. No independent, comprehensive study of a park's benefits and drawbacks has been done. The University of Maine has done some work on the subject. Two years ago, RESTORE: The North Woods, the park's chief proponent, asked a University of Montana economics professor to look at the economic impact of the proposed 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve stretching from Millinocket to the Quebec border. Wood harvesting and processing jobs would be lost, Thomas Power predicted, but the park would create 100 jobs a year in the early going and 300 jobs a year in later decades. A park would reverse northern Maine's downward trajectory, he said. His conclusions and assumptions were immediately assailed - mostly by people who live in or near the park's proposed confines.
A new national park, particularly one this size, is unlikely to be created over the objections of locals or without the support of the state's congressional delegation. It is up to Maine residents to say where they want to go, and to do that they should have good information about their choices. All of Maine counts in this discussion, although certainly the opinions of those who live near the area proposed for the park should be heard especially.
That is why the state's senators and congressmen should seek public guidance on the question of a feasibility study for the proposed park. Such a study could determine whether the woods that captured the heart of Henry David Thoreau are of national significance and, as important, of economic significance to the local economy. It would also recommend the best way to protect the area. Perhaps less acreage would be set aside. Perhaps it would be a national recreation area or possibly a designation not yet considered.
The key for Maine is to demand that its policy-makers not wait for the next interest group to tell Maine what it wants but to act on the region's own behalf. The status quo for a generation has been a retreat of jobs and population - it is failing the region economically and will continue to fail it without significant change.
Though RESTORE's 110-member committee includes more than a dozen Mainers, including the recently retired head of Acadia National Park, let's not take their word for it. But let's also not allow the Maine aversion to taking advice from outsiders - especially ones from Hollywood - to stop the review of much needed economic alternatives for this area.
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