Force a national park regardless of local public opinion? What a slap in the face

Ouch. If you are a citizen of the Katahdin region, double ouch. The kind of condescension used by Doug Rooks in his column about having Roxanne Quimby’s land declared a national monument just stings. Like a cold hard slap in the face. And then another.

In a July 9 MaineToday Media column, Rooks argued Quimby should ignore residents in the region who have voted against a national park by asking the president to declare what land she has as a national monument.

“Every national park that’s been created since Voyaguers, in 1971, was a national monument first. That’s how Acadia happened, too,” he wrote. “And here’s the thing about national monuments, as opposed to parks. They’re created by the president. No one else has any say. If I were Roxanne Quimby, I’d spend no more time pitching the plan to a local audience.”

The voters in East Millinocket, Millinocket and Medway wouldn’t matter. The opinions of our congressional delegation wouldn’t matter.

Rooks said three out of our four congressional representatives — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin — were wrong anyway to insist their support of a national park plan hinge on local support.

A woman exists a voting booth after voting on the nonbinding referendum on a proposed national park at the Medway Fire Department/ Public Works building June 23 in Medway. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

A woman exits a voting booth after voting on the nonbinding referendum on a proposed national park at the Medway Fire Department/Public Works building June 23 in Medway. (Ashley L. Conti | BDN)

Rooks suggested park proponents had wasted their time on “the wrong audience,” and he even used the word “silly” to describe the fears the forest products industry has that business will suffer if more than 100,000 acres are off limits to harvesting.

Jim Robbins of Robbins Lumber in Searsmont quickly provided a thoughtful response for anyone needing salve for all the stings.

I jumped into the middle of the national park debate late in the game when I started blogging for the BDN. I have had the good fortune to talk to and email with a variety of people involved. Most of these communications have been with average citizens either living in or tied to the region. None of these folks deserve to have their opinions discounted.

I am relieved that most of our congressional delegation care about how residents of the region feel. If anything should be discounted, it is Rep. Chellie Pingree’s opinion on what would be best for a region she doesn’t even live in.

The people with whom I have communicated are informed. They are proud, and they do not deserve condescension. As I’ve said before, the people of the region need hope, both short term and long term — the kind of hope our dysfunctional federal government can’t provide and condescension doesn’t foster.

From what I gather from my communications, people in the region want to build their own solution, as they and generations before them originally built their communities — with hard work provided by the natural resources and inherent beauty in their backyards. Like Gov. Percival Baxter, they are reticent to rely on the old paradigm to which Rooks repeatedly refers, which is turning to the federal government.

Baxter’s own words: “I certainly hope the federal government will not come into this region. And as for the suggestion that Baxter Park be merged into a national park, it just cannot be done.” (The quote can be found at 38:32.)

Further, people of the region understand that the federal government is struggling to meet its current responsibilities on every possible level, including the National Park Service.

They understand the old paradigm to which Rooks refers has resulted in a government buried by trillions in debt. And if the state of affairs of the millennials — I’m a millennial mom — is any indication, our children and grandchildren will be too busy working and too broke to take many trips to the all the national parks and monuments that they will be paying for.

Which is why I can’t say enough good about the Our Katahdin organization, and I would encourage Rooks to read the posts I have done on it. Our Katahdin is offering the region a template to begin a homegrown economic revitalization — a new paradigm, a platform, as the board members call it. Our Katahdin offers people an “entirely different lens” than the for-or-against-the-park lens that Quimby’s efforts created and the national monument idea seeks to prolong.

The Our Katahdin platform involves resources, networks and capital. If successful, it will produce jobs for people who will pay taxes that will help to pay down that federal deficit instead of growing it. The platform allows for a continued, valued presence for the forest products industry and for tourism and recreation. The platform focuses on the digital economy, which is a huge draw for millennials.

Our Katahdin is designed to engage the people of the region, those still living there and the diaspora that has spread throughout the country. Those of us not from the region would do well to support the endeavor. The success of the region affects the whole state because the region was once a major part of our economic heartbeat and needs to be so again. And the people of the region are our friends, family and neighbors.

It’s time for conversations with them, not condescension. It’s time to ask what can we do to help. The people of the region deserve our support and our respect.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.