Civil Discourse — Maine Hunting Guide Chris Kessler of Sebec, left, says he’s glad everyone is talking and hopes new opportunities emerge, but says the monument already restricts his hunting guide business. Paul Renaud, owner of the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, right, sees opportunity in the recreation sector. (Photo by C. Parrish)
Civil Discourse — Maine Hunting Guide Chris Kessler of Sebec, left, says he’s glad everyone is talking and hopes new opportunities emerge, but says the monument already restricts his hunting guide business. Paul Renaud, owner of the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, right, sees opportunity in the recreation sector. (Photo by C. Parrish)
The fourth of four meetings will be held in Orono tonight, September 29, to seek public input on how the new Maine woods national monument should take shape.

So far, 340 people have attended the first three National Park Service meetings, which were held over the past two weeks in towns near the 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The national monument, which is located just east of Baxter State Park, was established August 24.

The goal of the meetings is to collect questions and ideas that can then be incorporated into the early stages of the park planning process. 

The September 22 meeting in Millinocket, which was the third meeting, had about 65 participants — a relatively low turnout given that the once-thriving paper mill town is the largest of the area towns and is located along the southern entryway to Baxter State Park. 

For much of the past decade, the town has been bitterly divided over the proposal for a national park or monument in the Katahdin region, with the topic dominating conversations in local cafes and watering holes and people boycotting businesses of those with opposing views.

Over the past month, a new spirit of cooperation appears to have bloomed as the national monument planning process got under way with the arrival of Christina Marts, a community liaison and planning specialist with the National Park Service, and Tim Hudson, the manager of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Many of the “No National Park” and “No National Monument” signs have come down from the streets of Millinocket and surrounding towns. 

According to Marts, about 30 people a day are stopping in at the small visitors center located directly across from the Millinocket Town Hall at 200 Penobscot Avenue.

“There has been an opening, a recognition that we really are here to listen and hear what their concerns are,” said Marts. “People have come in the door and said, point-blank, we didn’t want you here, but now that you are here, we want to work with you.”

 “That’s the kind of openness we can work with to build something that will maximize the great potential of the monument in the area,” she said.

Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore, who was an articulate opponent to establishing a national monument, is one of the people who walked through the door.

“It’s time to realize the fight is over,” said Madore. “The monument is there. It seems silly to keep tilting at windmills.”

 “My duty as a town councilor is to serve the community as a whole,” he said. “My personal feelings are not relevant. I want to make sure that Millinocket is part of the equation and that we have a seat at the table so that the monument and the community can benefit.”

After a brief introduction, Millinocket meeting participants broke into small discussion groups to tackle a list of questions and generate some of their own, write down all of the group comments and hand them in to Marts. Participants  were also asked to consult a map of the new monument and mark locations on it that were of interest to them.

The questions they were asked to respond to were:

• What makes this place special to you and how do you use it? 

• What are the opportunities/ideas you see for your community and the future of the new National Monument? 

• What topics/issues are you concerned about or have questions about that you would like to see explored further as part of the management plan process?

That spirit of cooperation was evident as Millinocket attendees got down to work, discussing existing road access, snowmobiling, hunting,  bicycle trails, boat access, how area towns could benefit economically from the new recreation area, and whether the park service would try to get more land. All comments will be correlated and publicly available in coming weeks, according to Marts.

Marts and Hudson also addressed several issues at the meeting and in subsequent interviews that continue to be brought up in the media, even though they have been settled: hunting, snowmobiling, and road access to the national monument.

Hudson said the new national monument is highly unusual in that it has deeded snowmobile use and hunting rights. About 35,000 acres located on four separate parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River are open to snowmobiling and hunting. Those rights were legally secured by Lucas St. Clair, who was the lead on the effort to turn his family’s land into a monument. St. Clair established permanent deeded access for hunting and snowmobiling before the land was donated. Bear hunting is also allowed, but bear baiting and hunting with dogs are not.

“No one has ever deeded permanent snowmobile trails across forest industry land,” St. Clair said in August, with some frustration at the continuing rumors that those rights will be taken away by the NPS. “No one has done it. And we did it. Those permanent snowmobile trails are in the deeds.”

Snowmobile and hunting uses must still meet Maine state licensing and hunting season requirements. ATV use is not part of the deeded agreement. The area to the west of the river is closed to hunting and snowmobiling.

Hudson also discussed road access.

He said there are three roads into the national monument that have deeded rights-of-way across private land: the Swift Brook Road that connects from Route 11 (from either Sherman or Medway), the American Thread Road in Patten, and the Grand Lake Road to Matagamon that also leads to the northern entrance of Baxter State Park.

“Our framework for access is via the deeds,” said Hudson. “We have public access to every place in the park on those roads. It’s very unusual that these are private roads and there will be ongoing relationships with the landowners.”

Travelers to the national monument should take heed: two of these are dirt logging roads and logging trucks have the right of way. Passenger vehicles must yield.

Hudson said NPS will promote no other access points other than those three.

Marts said access to the national monument has come up at several of the meetings, so far, but that NPS jurisdiction does not extend beyond the monument perimeters or the deeded rights-of-way.

“Last night you heard a lot of discussion about the Millinocket community as a gateway community and the need for a southern road access from Millinocket into the monument,” said Marts, the day after the Millinocket public meeting.  “We don’t have the legal rights to establish that access route. It’s private land in there.”

 “Some of what we are hearing is really about broader regional planning,” said Marts. “It is really a community-based decision to move that forward.”

Marts said the next step in forging working relationships to help in the park planning process will focus on the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, state agencies such as the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Bureau of Public Lands, and interested organizations.

“And, of course, Baxter State Park,” said Marts. 

Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell wrote a letter to  Hudson in August expressing concern over the Baxter park boundary now shared with the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. 

Unlike National Monuments and Parks whose primary mission is to provide recreational opportunities to the American Public within a conservation and historical context,  210,000- acre Baxter State Park was given to the people of Maine by Governor Percival P. Baxter with a Forever Wild mandate.

Bissell explained that the popular park functions under a limited-use model designed to preserve the natural systems in the area and to provide a wilderness experience to those willing and able to walk to get close to nature.  

In order to honor Governor Baxter’s Forever Wild mandate, the kinds of uses and the number of people allowed into the park are restricted. Park capacity is limited to available parking. Camping is only allowed in designated areas by reservation, and it is strictly enforced. Dogs are not allowed, neither are motorcycles. Groups are strictly limited, RVs are too big to be allowed on Baxter park roads, and there are no hook-ups or electricity at campgrounds.

Bissell pointed out that existing roads and historic trails within the new national monument could act as de facto and uncontrolled access points into Baxter State Park, including into some of the wildest and most remote areas.

“We are proud of this remoteness and hope you will work with us to preserve it,” wrote Bissell in his letter to Hudson.

Access by trail into those wilder areas could “threaten to damage the intrinsic qualities that are consistent with (Baxter) Park objectives in the management of this area,” said Jensen.

The fourth public meeting will be held at the Corbett Building at the University of Maine in Orono on Thursday, September 29, beginning at 6:30 p.m.