Resist Attacks on Katahdin National Monument

By Paul A. Liebow

We have recently heard Interior Secretary Zinke has a favorable impression of the American spiritual and public values of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Can we possibly hope that impression can be communicated to and favorably acted up by Maine Governor LePage  and our Mr. So-Called president, while our local and national politics exude all the luster of a Worldwide Wrestling Final Match: gussied up opponents strutting in flashy costumes of alternative facts, then writhing around in mutual strangleholds, waiting for Referee Putin to ring the final bell.

The glory of Maine’s wild lands is not just looking up at a tall beautiful mountain, but also looking out onto a sea of green and blue that normal Mainers can hunt, fish, camp, ATV across and just plain putter around in. Every part of Maine was once “just cut over woods” after the glaciers receded.

The Monument was finally formally designated as such by President Obama after years of discussion, debate, and the public input of thousands of Maine people and relevant stakeholders. Residents of northern Maine, who once saw a national park as anathema to their traditional way of life, have found that jobs and revenue have followed the dream. Businesses are investing, tourism is growing, and real estate sales are on the rise all around the Greenville area. The Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, Maine Innkeepers Association, hundreds of businesses and key stakeholders, and the majority of Mainers still support it.

If we do not respect the hard work of those listed above, we may all well be looking back fondly on the concept of The Great North Woods as only a mythical Garden of Eden. The shores of treasured waters should not be dotted with porch lights, manicured lawns, show-off gardens, and over-sized trophy boats that hardly ever leave their little aluminum docks to actually go fishing. “Wilderness house lots” around the country have asking prices as high as $3 million.

As a teenager I was lucky enough to enjoy a 6 week canoe trip through northern Maine with the legendary Coach Cochran, as a reward for doing well in school. I remember paddling from Sugar Island all day up Moosehead Lake into the wind, then carrying our canoes and gear cross Northeast Carry and heading down the Allagash. I felt like I was heading into the Arctic. As an adult I enjoyed many glorious black winter nights ice fishing, the darkest I’ve ever known.  Lying on my back on the ice after checking my lines for cusk. I watched the sea of stars showering across the infinite night ocean, and heard coyotes yowling in the night, only their eyes illuminated by the occasional wandering snowmobile. I also hunted up there, and was once lucky enough to find a moose.

I remember getting caught in blinding snow squalls, and finding our way home by dead reckoning with compasses and luck, before the days of gps. I remember cooking red hot dogs and rib-eyes, even an occasional fish at high noon, sheltered by cliffs from a “blue norther” bellowing well below zero. These experiences will not exist for our children if we do not continue our precedent for preservation of America’s spiritual places.

It is high time for government and industry to unite with Maine people and all Americans to preserve, protect and defend a shared vision for preserving our common economic, cultural, environmental and spiritual heritage, as described above. We must protect honorable wildlife harvests and wilderness, fragile ecological communities and scenic beauty on the microscopic, community and landscape scale.

We must also protect the dignity of traditional hard work in scientifically planned and managed working forests with a whole new line of outdoor jobs that build on the values espoused above, so Americans from all walks of life can seek solace and spiritual rebirth in our public lands, scaling up from vest-pocket parks to accessible working forests wilderness.

We must not undo the Katahdin National Monument designation, and retreat from the line in the sand we drew at the present “gateway” communities when we started to contain the Plum Creek subdivision development plan.

As Mainers, we must all convey the wisdom of preserving projects like the Katahdin National Monument to Mr. Trump and Mr. Lepage, and to our friends and visitors from all over America to convey to their public servants at every level. And raise the possibility of designating a significant part of the Katahdin area as a National Park, as soon as possible.

Paul A. Liebow, MD, is a resident of Bucksport