Group Proposes 3.2-Million-Acre Park in Maine

CITING Henry David Thoreau, who advocated preserving the northern woods of Maine nearly 150 years ago, RESTORE, a Massachusetts-based group, is calling for the establishment of a 3.2 million-acre Maine Woods National Park.

The proposed federal preserve would surround the existing Baxter State Park and protect some of the Northern Forest's most precious resources: the headwaters of five major rivers; such endangered wildlife as the bald eagle, Canada lynx, and pine marten; 74,890-acre Moosehead Lake, as well as hundreds of other lakes and ponds; more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail; and the forest of spruce, fir, and northern hardwoods.

As expected, the national park proposal has sparked considerable interest - and controversy.

Though RESTORE: The North Woods has collected 10,000 signatures on a petition that calls for a federal feasibility study, the park idea is not being embraced by landowners, industry, or many environmental groups. (RESTORE is not a member of the Northern Forest Alliance.)

But that has not deterred Jym St. Pierre, RESTORE's director in Maine, who says his organization wants to see a better balance between public and private land ownership in the state. He points to the fact that, of the 15 million acres of the Northern Forest in Maine, only 800,000 are publicly owned. It will take a "bold stroke" to protect the qualities of this region, he says - more than what the current federal and state proposals will do. This is not the first effort to create a park, he points out: A Roosevelt National Park was proposed in 1933, and Kathadin National Park in 1937.

Mr. St. Pierre stresses that, like the Northern Forest Alliance's chosen wild areas (one of which overlaps with the proposed park), the national park would be created on a willing-seller basis, with the focus being on large paper- and timber-company holdings which, he says, frequently change owners anyway. Certain lands could remain in private hands, and traditional activities, such as hunting and fishing, would still be permitted.

He concedes that achieving RESTORE's goal of a 3.2 million-acre park may take decades. With strong public support, the park could become a reality, he asserts. RESTORE has published a slick brochure, identical in design to those for existing parks, and last summer opened a Maine Woods National Park visitor center in Bar Harbor, Maine, near Acadia National Park. St. Pierre says public response there was extremely positive.

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