In a nonbinding referendum, a majority of East Millinocket residents on Monday rejected a proposal to create a national park in Maine’s north woods.

In a 320-191 vote, they opposed the idea of creating a national park on 75,000 acres between Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River, with another 75,000-acre recreation area on the other side of the river. The land is owned by Eliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation formed by Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees and one of Maine’s most ardent conservationists. Eliotsville Plantation is already operating the area as a park, known as the Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area.

The vote in East Millinocket follows a similar straw poll vote taken in neighboring Medway last Tuesday. Medway residents also rejected the proposed park, 252-102. Millinocket doesn’t have a vote planned.

Opponents of a national park have cited fears that it would disturb efforts to grow the region’s forest products industry, while supporters believe the park would help further diversify the region’s economy and bring in more tourist dollars.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the effort to create the national park and recreation area, said the results of the votes have not altered the campaign’s efforts. He reiterated that a national park in the region would create between 450 and 1,000 jobs, and that more than 200 businesses and the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce have endorsed the park and recreation area.

“The two votes were nonbinding, but they showed us that there is a lot of energy around the issue of a new park and recreation area and a lot of interest,” he said. “Today, we’re getting back to work talking to people in the Katahdin region and throughout Maine, and explaining the details of this incredible opportunity.”

He also disagreed with the premise that these nonbinding votes send a signal that local residents of the region don’t support the park. He pointed to a recent survey in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, where the park would be located, that found 67 percent of voters approve of the proposed national park, while only 25 percent oppose it.

“Big ideas take time, and despite the votes, we see progress in the region,” Farmer said.

The Maine Woods Coalition, a group formed to oppose the proposed park, welcomed the votes in Medway and East Millinocket.

Ted O’Meara, the group’s spokesman, said the economic development focus for the Katahdin region should be on how its vast forest resources, hydropower assets and transportation infrastructure can be leveraged to grow the existing natural resource-based manufacturing industries.

“Its future lies in the forest products industry and the recreational opportunities that already exist throughout the area’s working forest and in Baxter State Park,” O’Meara said. “As desperate as the region is for new jobs and investment, voters clearly saw through the hype and empty promises and said, ‘No, thanks,’ turning thousands of acres over to the federal government is not the answer.”

Other groups involved in the effort to oppose the park include the Maine Forest Products Council, Maine Snowmobile Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Whit Richardson can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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