Thursday, December 5, 2013
By David Sharp
PORTLAND — A pair of studies commissioned by a foundation that wants to create a national park in northern Maine suggest that communities near federal parks have better economic performance than other rural communities and that creation of a second national park in Maine could create 450 to 1,000 jobs.
Elliotsville Plantation Inc., which was created by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, commissioned the studies to explore the potential economic impact in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, and to look at the impact on communities with existing parks and recreation areas.
Montana-based Headwaters Economics, which has done work for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, said a national park can provide a big economic boost.
“Northern Maine clearly needs a new economic idea,” Ben Alexander, associate director of Headwaters Economics, said Thursday. “Are people ready to try something else? That’s not for me to say. But if you look at other places with (national parks), it clearly indicates there’s an opportunity here.”
Quimby’s proposal for a northern Maine park in 2001 drew fierce opposition, as well as support. The National Park Service remains enthusiastic but has taken no formal stance.
Because of the opposition, Elliotsville Plantation has performed a reset of sorts, taking a step back, reopening a dialogue with Katahdin region residents, reviewing its options and commissioning the studies by Headwaters Economics, a consulting firm that focuses on community development and rural land management.
But Bob Meyers from the Maine Snowmobile Association, a critic of the national park proposal, said Thursday he’s skeptical of the research and the motives of Elliotsville Plantation, a private operating foundation set up to manage tens of thousands of acres bought by Quimby.
“It kind of sounds like the new plan is the old plan,” Meyers said.
Headwaters Economics was tapped to put some data behind the potential economic impact of a national park or recreation area, or both, said Lucas St. Clair, president of the Elliotsville Plantation board and Quimby’s son.
One study focused on a proposal of a 75,000-acre national park east of Baxter State Park and a similar-sized recreation area where hunting, snowmobiling and timber harvesting would be allowed.
The study found that opening all 100,000 acres to timbering would create about 50 jobs, compared to 455 to 1,055 jobs that could be created through a combined national park and national recreation area, Alexander said.
Another study compared 16 similar communities in the U.S. adjacent to a national park, a recreation area, or a combined national park and recreation area. The study found that communities near national parks have a more diversified economy with high-paying service jobs, Alexander said.
St. Clair said he’s listening to people’s concerns and is willing to make adjustments. The idea of setting aside part of the land for “traditional uses” of recreation and lumber operations came through listening to critics of the original proposal, he said.
Conservationist Roxanne Quimby poses in front of a 180-year-old map of Maine at her home in Portland. Two studies commissioned by her foundation suggest communities near national parks outpace the national average for economic development.