August 19, 2011

Interior secretary gathers views on proposed new park in Maine

By Jonathan Riskind
Washington Bureau Chief

The most successful drives to create new national parks come with "strong community support," U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said Thursday during a swing through Maine that included a public forum in Millinocket on the proposed North Woods National Park.

Susan Collins, Ken Salazar
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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar peek into an aquarium containing trout and salmon during a visit Thursday to the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport.

Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press

Ken Salazar
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Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Maine to hear views on a proposal for a new national park and to highlight the economic benefits of outdoor recreation.

The Associated Press

Salazar said the Obama administration does not yet have a position on the proposal by Roxanne Quimby, a co-founder of Burt's Bees and a prominent environmentalist, to give 70,000 acres east of Baxter State Park to the National Park Service.

In a news conference after a tour of L.L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport, Salazar said the late-afternoon forum in Millinocket gave him a chance to listen to people who are affected by the proposal. He was accompanied at the forum by Jon Jarvis, the National Park Service director, who told reporters that the park service also has no position yet on the issue.

Also accompanying Salazar on his one-day tour of Maine -- which focused on the outdoor recreation industry's economic impact and included a visit to a University of Maine lab where research is being done on deep-water offshore wind energy -- was a prominent critic of the proposal for a new national park, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Collins, R-Maine, said at the news conference that she believes Maine is best served by keeping the land private, so it can be used for a mix of recreation, conservation and forest product industry.

Collins said 95 percent of Maine's forests is in private hands, and that private landowners have a tradition of being "good stewards" and allowing public access. She said she also is concerned that the park proposal could jeopardize thousands of forest product-related jobs in Maine.

The proposed new national park would be nearly twice the size of Acadia National Park, which attracts about 2 million visitors a year.

Quimby and other proponents say a national park in northern Maine would spur more tourism and be an economic benefit for the region. They want the National Park Service to study the feasibility of a new park.

Residents appeared to be divided at the meeting in Millinocket. Some who oppose the idea said any studies would be a waste of time. "There is just no support on any level for a national park," said Millinocket Town Councilor Mike Madore.

Others suggested that a study would enable people to make an informed decision.

"It seems to be a great gift (that) Roxanne Quimby is giving us," said Daniel McCaw of Old Town, who isn't sold on the park idea but wants an economic feasibility study.

About 300 people turned out for the session, which was moderated by Salazar.

He told participants that he has two options: order a study to answer residents' questions, or order a full-blown feasibility study. No decision has been made, he said.

Salazar shrugged off the suggestion that he came to the region at the request of Quimby, who serves on the National Parks Foundation Board, the parks service's charitable partner. Quimby, who didn't attend the meeting, was preparing for a previously scheduled presentation in Medway.

"I invited myself," Salazar told residents.

In a prepared statement released after the meeting in Millinocket, Salazar noted that Quimby has purchased an additional 30,000 acres and has offered to set them aside for the state for traditional uses such as snowmobiling and hunting.

Salazar, a former Democratic senator, said successful park proposals have had the support of their local congressional delegations. The donation of land to the park service is subject to approval by Congress and the Obama administration.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also opposes the Maine national park proposal, although she said it should be up to the local community to decide what is best for the area.

(Continued on page 2)

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