It’s time to talk about an idea whose time hasn’t come. And probably never will.

It’s called the Maine Mountains Park, and it’s the brainchild of Lance Tapley, the man behind the successful effort back in the 1970s to create the Bigelow Preserve in western Maine. Tapley recently wrote a column for the Free Press in Rockland in which he offered a proposal so audacious it could easily be dismissed without further consideration. Except his underlying concerns are real.

First the fanciful stuff: Tapley wants to turn 2 million acres in northern Somerset, Franklin and Oxford counties into a massive state park. This scheme would encompass the entire town I live in.

My first reaction was a thoughtful HELL, NO!

I don’t want to live under park rules where I have to apply for a permit to cut down a tree. I don’t want to be told I can’t drink beer on my deck. I don’t want to make it impossible to build a camp by a pond. I don’t want restrictions on hunting, fishing or snowmobiling, all crucial factors in the local economy.

Now, here’s the reasonable stuff: This part of the state is besieged with incremental industrial development that’s slowly converting it into faux wilderness. First, it was irresponsible logging operations that made a quick buck by leaving devastation in their wake. Then it was wind farms that besmirched the skyline with turbines and left the ground cluttered with dead birds and bats. Next, it’s Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission line to bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts. Finally, the Land Use Planning Commission (motto: Trees Bad, Dollar Stores Good) wants to open huge new tracts of forest to development.

Soon, there’ll be a Starbucks in every deer yard.

“My radical assumption,” wrote Tapley, “is that the North Woods are worth more than the bottom line on a corporation’s balance sheet.”

He’s basing his proposal on the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, which has been around for 130 years. Over half the land within its boundaries is privately owned, and that property is controlled not by park authorities, but by the 102 towns it encompasses. Virtually all forms of outdoor recreation are permitted, except in limited wilderness refuges where there are no motorized vehicles or hunting. And sustainable forestry is standard practice.

If Maine started a similar project, Tapley thinks it would take 50 to 100 years to complete, but would result in “a world-class preserve and well-planned and regulated playground, as well as a place where locals can make a decent living.”

This might seem outlandish, but so did Baxter State Park, which resulted from the perseverance of one rich and powerful individual, the late Percival Baxter, who imposed his vision of a “forever wild” preserve on a reluctant state. Or how about the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which never would have happened but for another rich individual, Roxanne Quimby, and her politically adept son, Lucas St. Clair, who overcame a hostile reception.

All that’s standing in the way of the Maine Mountains Park is the lack of somebody rich and powerful willing to counteract what is certain to be a thoroughly unreceptive political establishment. Other than that, this thing is a lock.

Even if the park never happens, Tapley’s dream ought to spark increased resistance to corporate encroachment on Maine’s wilderness. That makes the idea one whose time may never come, but remains timely nonetheless.

Ranger Al will read comments emailed to [email protected]

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