New U.S. Park? Maine Bid Draws High-Profile Debate

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
February 2, 2004

Should a national park that's bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined be established in the eastern United States? The idea has some high-profile supporters—but is it the best option for the future of Maine's storied North Woods? Many don't think so, particularly local residents who have enjoyed hunting and other traditional uses of the forest for generations.

Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, and other Hollywood 'A-listers' are among the big-name supporters of Americans for a Maine Woods National Park, an interest group that also includes scientists, educators, and environmentalists like Jane Goodall and Edward O. Wilson. The committee was founded by RESTORE: The North Woods, a conservation organization that's spearheading a protection plan for an enormous swath of woodlands in the U.S. East.

The proposed national park would encompass 3.2 million acres (1.3 million hectares), an area larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. The woods in question hold a special place in American history.

"It's sort of ironic that the national park movement happened and the place that inspired many of those early proponents is not yet one of those protected places," said Jym St. Pierre, Maine Director of RESTORE. "Thoreau didn't go to the Rockies, he came to Katahdin and wrote about the idea of creating national preserves in the East. Teddy Roosevelt made many trips into these areas of Northern Maine."

North Woods "For Sale"

In recent years international forestry, paper, and pulp industries have put up "for sale" signs across the North Woods region.

"I think since 1998 about six million acres (2.4 million hectares) have changed hands across the northern forest, from northern New York across Vermont and New Hampshire and into Maine," said Tom Abello, communications coordinator for the Nature Conservancy's Maine Chapter. "This presents opportunity as well as some apprehension."

Land once held by giant forest and paper companies is currently in transition.

"It's the more traditional forest land owners that have been putting land up for sale," Abello said. "The new owners are generally timber investors, mutual funds, endowments—the types of investors who have a shorter horizon for management and ownership. Land will be coming on the market more frequently than in the past."

The "land churn" caused by such short term investment ownership could promote fragmentation and development, conservationists fear.

"Part of the exit strategy when some of these groups get out of the market, is to cut the timber and sell off some of the lakefront for developments," Abello said.

So is declaring what's left of the woods a national park the answer? Depends whom you ask.

Continued on Next Page >>




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