Polling conducted for the National Parks Conservation Association shows Maine residents overwhelmingly would prefer to see their state's "North Woods" preserved as "parkland" complemented by sustainable timbering rather than dotted with vacation homes.
Seventy-eight percent of the 502 individuals surveyed by Zogby International between July 26 and July 29 said they'd prefer that less-developed vision for the picturesque lake-and-forest region in northern Maine.
From a national park viewpoint, a "North Woods" national park would correct a glaring omission in the northeastern United States, as there is no large expanse of mountains, woodlands, and lakes protected by a national park in New England. And proponents of the Maine North Woods National Park and Preserve want to change that.
In a mission that's been ongoing for roughly two decades, those behind the movement would like to see such a national park sculpted from an area of about 10-12 million acres in time for the National Park Service's centennial in 2016. The proposal calls for a park of 3.2 million acres, larger than Yellowstone National Park. Along with protecting the landscape and the wildlife that resides there, those backing the park say it would stimulate and nurture the local economy.
With the president's America's Great Outdoors listening session coming to Bangor, Maine, today, the NPCA commissioned the Zogby survey to gauge how Maine residents feel about the issue.
Alexander Brash, NPCA's Northeast regional director, said Wednesday that his group wanted to take the pulse of Maine residents on whether and how the North Woods should be protected, or developed, going forward. Indeed, he said the idea was to try to determine whether the state's residents were open to a mixed use sort of approach to protecting the area in a fashion of its current form.
“I was certainly happily surprised that so many people were in favor of putting aside a substantial park like that. We believed it might be closer to 40-60 or 50-50, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was such a large majority," Mr. Brash said of the 78 percent who voiced support for an area of timber and lands vs. vacation homes.
“At the moment, all we’re calling for is people to take a step back from the historical polemic and understand that in the 20 years since people first proposed a big national park up there, that there have been a lot of new models, different kinds of parks that would work and which might be more satisfactory to everybody, all the stakeholders who should be involved," he said during a phone call.
Specifically, he pointed to Redwood National and State Park in California -- "Which is a piece state and a piece national and so it's jointly managed" -- units of the National Park System that are more heavily managed for recreation than preservation, and "heritage areas" that are even another step removed from the classic national park.
Regarding a mix of park land and sustainable timbering, the NPCA official said it's questionable whether the timber industry of old will ever fully rebound in Maine, and the current proposal would be economically promising.
"One of the things that we’re saying is you actually could do both. If you sort of lower your expectations to agree on the timber industry, and go to longer rotations, then you could have a kind of living landscape that would also be complemented by having some large protected area in the middle," explained Mr. Brash. "And it would end up also broadening the region’s economy because you wouldn’t be depending entirely on timber.”
Other economic drivers that might realistically arise alongside the birth of a national park would be gateway towns in the fashion of Estes Park, Colorado, outside Rocky Mountain National Park, or West Yellowstone, Montana, outside Yellowstone National Park, he said.
The North Woods, Mr. Brash mentioned a few minutes later, also offers what he sees as "the last chance for a great national park, certainly in the East, if not in the (entire Lower) 48.”
Among other questions on the survey, when asked whether they would support "a collaborative effort between public and private agencies to preserve the North Woods as a mix of protected and working lands where timber can be sustainably harvested," 53 percent said they could "strongly support" such an effort, while 33 percent said they could "somewhat" support it.
When the question hinged on whether the government should encourage sustainable forestry practices through "incentives, regulations, and tax breaks for development rights," 27 percent were strongly in support of the proposal, and 28 percent said of the respondents said they could somewhat support the effort. Fifteen percent said they were somewhat opposed to that approach, while 22 percent said they were strongly opposed.
When asked whether they could support 10-to-20 percent of the North Woods being preserved as a "public park," 51 percent said they could strongly support such a vision, and 24 percent said they could somewhat support it. But 8 percent were somewhat opposed, and 12 percent said they were strongly opposed.