Posted on 10/13/2015

Photo taken on September 11, 2015

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Baxter State Park

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Maine Woods National Park

Maine Woods National Park
The number keeps changing, but the federal government of the United States maintains something like 408 properties within its National Park System. Fifty-nine of these properties are designated "national parks." If things go a certain (currently unlikely) way, the land you see here laid out in front of the Katahdin viewpoint along Interstate 95 in northern Maine could become part of the 60th. This little marshy pond lies along the eastern edge of the 150,000 acres of former logging territory proposed to become part of Maine Woods National Park.

Here's the history. For most of the last century or so, almost the entire upper half of the state of Maine has been owned by logging companies. You can see this just by looking at a highway map, which includes dozens of dotted lines of dirt road blocked by gates. Like a lot of extraction industries, though, modern technology has changed the economics behind logging, and a lot of the logging companies have pulled out of the north Maine woods. Paper mills across the state have closed, and unemployment rates for people who used to make their living cutting down these trees have soared. The nearby town of East Millinocket, for instance, has seen unemployment rates hold steady at nearly 20% at a time when the state average is down around 6.

And then a woman named Roxanne Quimby came up with an idea. Quimby made a fortune founding the company that makes Bert's Bees lip balm, and about 20 years ago she started investing the fortune she'd made in Maine. She bought up huge tracts from the logging companies and eventually claimed well over 100,000 acres as her own. That's an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. Quimby's goal was to donate the vast majority of this land to the U.S. government and have them turn it into what would surely be a jewel of the National Park System. This would, in effect, be like creating an all-new Yellowstone.

This is, of course, not without controversy, because nothing in the modern world is without controversy. More than that, though, the people of Maine tend to hate things, and the two things they hate most of all are the federal government and anybody from "outside." (And they're not particularly fond of other people from "inside," either.) Many Mainers--who consider the concept of property rights among the most sacrosanct of all rights, as long as it means they still get to use your land to hunt--considered this voluntary gift a federal land grab. They insisted it would destroy logging jobs that have already vanished, and that it would bar people from using Quimby's land in ways she's long prohibited anyway. Quimby eventually grew too old for the fight, but her son--who has the unfortunate name of Lucius St. Claire--has stepped in with a more modest idea the Mainers still fight.

Meanwhile, the federal government is overrun with people who are increasingly hostile to the idea of public lands and preservation, and who hate the idea of paying for anything that doesn't involve a missile anyway. Even if the Mainers were 100% behind Qumby's son's idea, I doubt you could get Congress to pass it. So it's doubtful this land will become a national park anytime soon. Maybe we'll change our collective minds on this in 20 years. Here's hoping this isn't all a resort subdivision by then.

Don Barrett (aka DBs travels), Pam J have particularly liked this photo

Don Barrett (aka DBs travels)
Don Barrett (aka DBs…
Good commentary, thank you.
22 months ago.