Mike: Well, Bangor’s council has decided they want a national park almost 100 miles to the north. Who is next to put their thumb on the scale? Portland?
Cynthia: Millinocket, the “magic city,” had better weigh in quickly before it disappears! Its population has dropped from 7,700 to 4,500 and keeps dropping.
Portlanders and others outside Millinocket who want a park, on the other hand, are better off buying real estate in the Katahdin area and taking a seat at the table than they are trying to convince a bunch of stubborn codgers to eat their broccoli.
Mike: Have the wealthy people buy the land, then conspire with government to tie it up in perpetuity? It worked for the landowners in Acadia — they don’t have to worry about neighbors! And goodness knows Washington D.C. is a trusted, forthright partner. If you like your access to the woods, you can keep it…unless you can’t.
Cynthia: Ahh, yes. The old class warfare argument — always a good one when reality is hard to bear. But since you started it, let me ask you this: why are wealthy private landowners expected to allow the rest of us to use their land for hunting and snowmobiling in perpetuity? Many people opposed to a national park seem to think they have “rights” to land owned by others.
How does one justify entitlement to private land use and opposition to a private landowner sponsoring a public park?
Mike: Class warfare is railing against people because of their success; see all the false claims by Democrats that “Republicans only care about the rich.” Props to you for calling your side out on it. But it isn’t class warfare to object to anyone stacking the rules in their favor, whether they are bankers, environmentalists, or industrialists. I don’t begrudge the Quimbys their wax-sealed success; they should buy all the land they want. But if they want it locked up, post it and pay taxes!
And if people believe they have access rights to posted private land, then I’ll be the first to say they are wrong. Yet Maine has a long history of great partnership between sportsmen, recreationalists, and private landowners. What is the problem requiring such a drastic change?
Cynthia: Big bold ideas need not always spring from a problem, and nobody who supports the park is trying to stack the rules or avoid taxes. Instead, park supporters are working earnestly, openly and honestly to educate people about the vast array of benefits — economic, recreational and environmental — that would flow from a national park.
Rich people from away are gobbling up the Maine woods whether we like it or not, and their hobby of collecting acres does nothing for Maine’s economy, whereas research and common sense say a national park would be the hub of a vibrant prosperous community.
Anti-government ideology is a poor excuse to reject a gift of this magnitude — 150 acres and a $40 million endowment — surely there must be other reasons. What are they?
Mike: I think you underestimate skepticism of government — it has pretty deep roots here in Maine.
But can parks play a role in our economy? Of course. Although useful as a rhetorical device, I don’t believe anyone is really advocating divestment from all lands. Yet, hasn’t anyone noticed that we already have a 200,000-acre park in those woods? The study commissioned by proponents doesn’t appear to control for that minor detail. Or does meager ol’ Baxter not count since the feds don’t control it?
Cynthia: National Parks are the gold standard — the brand that will attract people from around the globe. Baxter State Park will benefit from the infrastructure and the presence of another park. The concept is so exciting, Mike! Check out the web site. You will immediately want to hike, fish, grow a beard and strum an acoustic guitar, trailside.
Mike: I’m liking this — let’s keep the snazzy website, build a virtual National Park, and let the non-hipsters with non-ironic beards continue to chop down trees, hunt, and snowmobile in the woods.
Or maybe we could dedicate some of the land to Baxter, and utilize the endowment to build some new “gold standard” infrastructure and advertise our existing resources. It keeps Mainers in charge and helps out what we already have. First stop? A coherent statewide marketing strategy.
Cynthia: Paraphrasing Gov. LePage, local control is great, but its enormously expensive.
The national park is a case in point: a handful of nostalgic locals, afraid of change and distrustful of people from away, are costing Maine over 450 good-paying jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment by obstructing the national park. Perhaps the only thing more expensive than local control is blind allegiance to ideology. Let’s evolve.
Mike: Okay, let’s invite Washington up to save us. Don’t worry Cynthia, they’re from the government and are here to help!
Note: Cynthia Dill founded Friends of the Maine Woods in 2011, an organization that advocated for a previous park proposal.