The Park - Year 2020 A.D.
May 22, 1999
Yes, you and I are really living, today, in the year 2020. Today, my grandson asked me, "What was Maine like in 1999?" As I answered, it brought back all the memories. None of us ever really believed that this would happen. We fought so hard to prevent it from happening. But here we are, in the largest wilderness Park in the entire United States! This used to be a place called Maine, a state, one of the fifty states in this country. But now it is simply, by common usage across the nation, "The Park" -- fifteen million acres of wonderland wilderness! My hometown of Lubec is long gone. As is Millinocket, Rangeley, and all the rest.
You remember the history, of course, over the past twenty years. The Park began as slightly over 3 million acres. As the years went by, and the federal land acquisition funds accumulated in the billions (the Acts were S-25 and HR 701, way back in 1999), more political pressure grew and as the large land owners bottom lines evaporated, it was only reasonable for the forest owners, big and small, to sell for federal cash. It was available and there were no other buyers.
There were initially thousands of in-holders. This is defined as people who owned and lived on land that became surrounded by federal land. Of course they all became "willing sellers" to the federal government. There was little if any coercion, but the reality of very low appraisals, and the constant threat of the use of "eminent domain”, it became clear to the good citizens that it was their patriotic duty to sell their house and land. It was after all for the public good.
You remember, of course, the enthusiasm for the tourism and recreation programs. Those 70 million citizens who lived within driving distance were sure to take advantage of the beautiful lakes, and rivers, and streams. People by the millions would be there to hunt and fish and to enjoy the wondrous beauty of the forests and nationally significant areas. And everyone who lived near "The Park" would get rich. And all the thousands of "The Park" employees would have fine worthwhile paying jobs, doing the public good.
The initial small 3 million acre park was touted by devoted preservationist leaders to be able to gross over $500 million annually, an outlandish estimate. This figure would include the gross income for the government of concession fees and recreation fees, plus the concessionaire gross. At the time the gross recreation fees and concessions in other National Park's were as follows:
- Yellowstone National Park was grossing $6,774,253 in recreation fees and $5,444,018 in concession fees;
- Acadia National Park was grossing $2,057,279 in recreation fees and $236,227 in concessionaire fees;
- Glacier National Park was grossing $2,805,179 in recreation fees and $562,196 in concession fees;
- Yosemite National Park was grossing $15,718,621 in recreation fees and $658,901 in concession fees; and
- Great Smoky National Park was grossing $1,356,266 in recreation fees and $46,584 in concession fees.
The estimated concession gross for the leader, Yellowstone, would be about $200 million. The northern part of Maine would never have the infrastructure to support even $100 million let alone the $500 million forecast. The significance of "The Park" was beyond the grasp of ordinary citizens. The public good was the be-all end-all raison d'etre!
As the Park grew in size and dimension, and as the tourists began to arrive in some numbers, problems arose. There weren't enough facilities to handle people, i.e., motels, restaurants, mass transportation, and the reason was that the strict environmental laws that were now in effect precluded the permitting of most applications.
There was a problem of air pollution because of the increased number of private cars bringing all those tourists to "The Park." And as the tourists demanded access, and tried to get back to the lakes and rivers, there weren't adequate roads for urban type tourists. Besides, the preservationists began to realize that pollution was endangering the wilderness, that the wilderness habitat was endangered, that lakes would suffer overfishing and pollution, that even their entire concept of pristine wilderness was at danger.
After the fifth year "The Park" had now doubled in size and it became obvious that humans were detrimental to the entire concept of "The Park”. The preservationists realized that the ploy of "tourism" to lull the concerns of citizens who saw the forest industry disappear had to be dispensed with, now and forever.
We now know the result of that determination -- a flat rule that no humans are allowed for whatever reason in the core areas of "The Park”. This concept of "no humans" was originally set out in the "Wilderness Project" in the early 1990s. Of course some exceptions are made. State and federal forest rangers cruise "The Park" to prevent any poaching, to assure forest security, to test for water and air pollution, to assess severe fines on any violators of the restrictions, to see that United Nations environmental policy is followed, to observe and count animal and bird wildlife. Then there are the "elite" persons who are allowed personal access to simply enjoy the natural wonders, and to commune with Nature in her most spiritual display of wonder. The elite are carefully selected and approved by a political group called the "Natural Wilderness Council”, its members having been appointed by the Secretary of Interior.
Of course, we all observe how tightly "The Park" boundaries are guarded by the State Police, County Sheriffs, and occasionally by the National Guard.
It is easy from our vantage point of 2020 A.D. to see how "The Park" came to be the monolith of wilderness that now exists, with its costly management, its bureaucracy, and especially its United Nations support and affiliation. We can also view the evaporation of the culture, the way of life that existed in Maine for over two hundred years; that independence of spirit, uniquely Maine, that special "Downeast" flavor, that old English brogue, and that particular pride of land ownership that permeated the wonderful nature and culture of Mainers.
There is an interesting historical fact, a private event occurring way back in 1996 and 1997, that can now be seen as a precursor to the eventual drift of events of the next twenty years. There was a group of investors who were interested in expanding business and industry in Northern Maine. They put together a financial package of $700 million, and were moving toward consolidation. However at the same time Governor King placed his demand for his forestry legislation, called Compact I and Compact II, in front of the people for balloting. The investors read between the lines, saw the long range implications of extreme forestry regulation, not only if the Compact were to pass, but the long range planning and concepts for the forest of Maine that were behind the creation of the Compact. They withdrew from Maine entirely. If those jobs and that amount of industry had been put in Northern Maine, the entire chain of negative events since 1998 may have been changed for the better.
"The Park" exists, it's real. A few hundred thousand people live along the coast, and down in what used to be a vigorous southern Maine. The rest of the United States views us as "The Park”, a somewhat nebulous thing that they can't visit, but only know about from school and the media.
R.O. "Bob" Voight is a founding member of the Maine Conservation Rights Institute.
"Courtesy of Scott Fish, AsMaineGoes.com."