MSU has a unique location, situated in the same state as two beautiful national parks. As the National Park Service celebrates one hundred years of existence, questions have risen across the country as to what should be considered a National Park.
Roxanne Quimby is perhaps the most polarizing figure ever to set foot in the Maine Woods. For years she has been the face behind the push for the recently designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, an achievement she has spent much of the last two decades pursuing. Nestled in the shadow of the mighty Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the new national monument will help protect a spectacular section of the Maine Woods. Here, one can find animals like moose and bear and ample hiking and recreation opportunities, as well as bitter controversy regarding the management of the land. Quimby, originally a Massachusetts native, has spent the majority of her adult life residing in Maine. In 1991, she co-founded the company Burt’s Bees with her husband, turning it into a wildly successful business. Ever since that time she has used her newfound wealth to buy up massive tracts of timber land bordering Baxter State Park, in the hopes of one day turning it into a national park. She ultimately purchased some 100,000 acres of land with the intent of donating it to the federal government. In 2011, she took her bold proposal for a new national park public, and was met with resounding rejection.
Local residents were not happy about Quimby’s proposed park. In a place where distrust of the federal government and out-of-staters runs deep, Quimby was the embodiment of both. To them, she was a rich outsider coming to steal Maine from Mainers, to give it away to the federal government no less. Quimby’s proposed park divided the residents of nearby Millinocket, who eventually voted against its creation. The Maine State Legislature and Governor opposed the proposal, and Maine’s congressional delegation refused to introduce legislation for its creation. Quimby soon found herself ostracized from the community.
Quimby subsequently took herself out of the spotlight, allowing her son, Lucas St. Clair, to become the public face of the project. Additionally, the proposal for a national park was tabled in favor of a national monument designation, something that wouldn’t require congressional action. That effort was ultimately successful, as President Barack Obama issued an executive order establishing the new national monument on the land that Quimby had purchased. However, bitterness remains.
Many locals aren’t any happier with a national monument designation in place of a national park. To locals, it still represents the Feds gaining a foothold in Northern Maine. Signs proclaiming, “National Monument — No”, continue to dot the roadways throughout the Katahdin region. Many residents remain skeptical of the access they may lose under federal management of the land, even without ‘National Park’ status. Others view the park as a dagger to the heart of a declining forestry industry. These people still hold out hope that the timber industry that once fueled northern Maine will one day rebound, even as the shuttered timber mills slowly slip into disrepair.
Their sentiments echo resentments heard throughout the West as the debate over the future of public land management continues to rage on. As Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument becomes the 413th unit administered by the National Park Service, and the National Park Service itself celebrates one hundred years of existence, it seems that we are still grappling with the basic question of what ought to be a national park, and what a national park ought to be.