The bridge over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Kittery, Maine is a cantilevered through arch of sea green steel that carries six lanes of Interstate-95. Its high arch allows motorists to travel between the states at high speeds, uninterrupted by the bustling ship traffic below. Just beyond the bridge, on the right side of I-95, an unassuming blue road sign with plain white lettering greets travelers entering Maine. WELCOME TO MAINE, it reads, THE WAY LIFE SHOULD BE. The salutation is peculiar if not for its undisguised arrogance-its announcement that life everywhere else is not the way it should be-then for the absence of "life" here. The six once busy lanes of I-95 are reduced to four and thinned of traffic, and the ebb and flow of the Piscataqua and its twin harbors are exchanged for stands of northern hardwood forest. How life should be is left unanswered.
Interstate-95 is Maine's artery. It connects the northeastern extremity to the 47 other contiguous states. From Maine's southern tip in Kittery, I-95 follows the rocky coastline up some 50 miles to Portland where most visitors exit the turnpike. Vacationland, complete with its salty air, seagulls, lighthouses, and lobsterman, is a few more miles up the coast. The turnpike, however, extends northward and inland. Few visitors make it another 35 miles to Lewistown where developers have begun converting failed mills into six-figure lofts that are too much for locals to afford. Fewer still reach Waterville, 50 miles further, which inspired Richard Russo's dying mill town in Empire Falls. And only the most zealous go 50 miles more to Bangor, the east central city that was once capital of Maine's thriving wood-products industry.
Above there, towns become scarce, and boreal forests with their stately conifers and birches envelop the landscape. Only the ribbon of I-95 interrupts the scene. Road signs warn drivers how many more miles to the next gas station or rest stop. Some others welcome them to, not towns, but minor civil divisions like T2-R8 NWP or T1-R8 WELS. Flashing lights advise careful driving to prevent accidents with one of the 25 thousand local moose. Most of the few motorists around disregard the warning and drive well above the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit. "State troopers don't go above Bangor," one local told me with a wink, but I doubted that they would disregard their state's northern half.
It takes one more hour (or two if you don't call his bluff) to reach Millinocket, a lonesome and tired town in north central Maine. After so many miles without the amenities of civilization (and, if you're curious, without state troopers), seeing downtown Millinocket is a relief. Not that there is much to see. The two-block Penobscot Avenue business district is an aimless sprawl of buildings with awkward parking lots and alleyways in between. The municipal building, a square brick structure with weathered maroon awnings, stands at its center. Nearby there are many storefronts-too numerous for a town of 5,203. Several of them have for "FOR RENT" signs.
One that does not is the Appalachian Trail Café where a full meal with Maine blueberry pancakes costs less than six dollars. When I visited Millinocket this November, I ate at the café after grossly underestimating how long the drive to here from where I go to school in Brunswick would take. That day, like most others, locals filled the dozen or so tables inside. They spoke with pronounced New England accents that drawl R's into ah's. It was hunting season, so many of the men (and some of the women too) wore safety orange with their canvas jackets, Carhartt dungarees, and leather boots. I too donned an orange hat that I had bought earlier not so much as to stand out as to fit in.
My new hat, of course, failed to camouflage my urban roots. The conversation momentarily hushed as the locals eyed their visitor. Moving toward a rear counter, I sat down next to a short, heavy-set woman with bulging brown eyes. "What brings you to Millinocket?" my lunch companion turned to me and asked. I came here, I replied, to research a proposal to create a national park in Millinocket's backyard. I asked her if she would tell me her thoughts about Roxanne Quimby, a strong public supporter of the park. "I'm not going to let that woman ruin my lunch break" was her response and the end of our conversation. A nearby waitress laughed in agreement.
Millinocket is on the frontier of the Great North Woods, the more than 10 million acres of forestlands that cover northern Maine. To the north are Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in Maine and northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, as well as the headwaters of the Allegash, Aroostook, St. John, Kennebec, and Penobscot Rivers. To the west is Moosehead Lake, the largest inland lake within one state in the East. Northern hardwood and boreal forests cover everything in between. A 1997 study by the Maine Department of Conservation characterized the area as the largest undeveloped wilderness in the eastern United States and one of the few places there where large-scale conservation is possible.
It's instructive, however, to think of this landscape not so much as a wilderness but rather as an industrial forest or even a vast tree farm. For much of Maine's history, the so-called timber barons have owned and logged this land, and most forest here has been cut at least once or twice and floated downriver (or more recently, driven) to lumber and paper mills. Accordingly, the Great North Woods and its supply of trees have sustained towns like Millinocket for over one hundred years. The wood products industry is Millincoket's largest, and many locals still live off quasi-subsistence hunting of deer, moose, bear, and fowl because the traditional landowners have allowed complete public access to the town's 10 million-acre backyard.
Millinocket's story began in 1898, when a University of Maine graduate named Charles W. Mullen contacted another Mainer named Garret Schenck. Mullen, an engineer, had planned a hydroelectric dam system on the Penobscot River. He wanted Schenck, a pulp and paper technology expert, to build a paper mill near the dam site. Wood was fueling the rapidly growing U.S. economy, and northern Maine had lots of fuel to tap. Schenck signed on and started gathering the necessary capital, land rights, and engineers to build his mill. That year, he established the Great Northern Paper Company and chose the confluence of the Penobscot River's West Branch and the Millinocket Stream to build the world's largest paper mill. Hundreds of people, mostly immigrants, converged on the area to build the mill and a town to support it. Millinocket was incorporated just three years later in 1901. The town's growth was so dramatic that it became know as "The Magic City of Maine's Wilderness."
The title was well deserved. For the better part of the twentieth century, Millinocket competed with coastal destinations in York and Cumberland Counties for the highest per capita income in the state. At its peak in the mid-1980s, Great Northern Paper Company's mill employed 4,200 people or one-third of the region's population. "Back then when I started," remembered Town Council member Jim Busque, "pulp and paper was one of the most profitable industries, and people here had a quality of life many would want." I watched Busque interviewed this fall on Small Town Economies, a public television forum. We did not meet in person because he was out hunting. On television, Busque looked about 40 but would look younger without his thick brown mustache. He sat on a stool, holding his hands in his lap and letting his lean body slouch. "There was employment for everyone. When we graduated high school, we knew we had jobs waiting for us at the mill," he said. Wages were high, and the pensions were great. Workers owned homes, trucks, and boats, built private hunting camps in their wilderness-backyard, and lived the American dream. "The mill is our anchor; it's our base, our foundation. And we need it."
George Nelson agreed. He spoke to me from the one-chair barbershop he owns downtown. Waiting for customers, Nelson's blue eyes glinted as he gazed out the window. He wore a maroon smock with a comb and scissors in his chest pocket. Nelson moved to Millinocket in 1956 "back when the mills were booming." It was, he told me, "an unbelievable place to live for a kid of 16 years. There wasn't a house to buy or rent. Everybody had money. We worked in the mill during the summers, and a few guys were working vacations and weekends during the school year. We got great money. Ten bucks an hour. It's funny now. I've guess we've come full circle."
Speaking about the wood-products industry's "transition," which is a euphemism for drastic downsizing, is a common conversation topic here. "You could see changes early on in the 1960s when Great Northern started getting involved with other companies," Nelson said, referring to International Paper, Scot Paper, Georgia Pacific, Boise Cascade, and the like. As these businesses started to create global strategies, it increasingly became clear that Maine's slow-growing forests could not produce profits like the faster growing forests and cheaper labor in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippians, and Brazil. In 1986, Great Northern announced it would lay off 3,000 workers and cut back to 1,200 jobs. "It was like an earthquake going through the town."
Those who could left. From 1990 to 2000, 25 percent of the population, mostly younger folks, moved away. The average age in Millinocket rose from 37 to 44. About that same time, Nelson, who had sold everything and moved to Texas to become a traveling salesman (he calls the period "a sort of midlife crisis"), returned to Millinocket because his family needed help. He reopened his barbershop to support them during the hard times. "Now all my relatives are gone, and I'm too old to go anywhere. So here I am," he chuckled.
"Is that you, then?" I pointed to a framed rhyme hanging on the wall.
"I guess it is." Nelson gave a crestfallen smile. "The difficult age / Has come and lit / I'm too tired to work / And too poor to quit."
One week before visiting Millinocket, I took a familiar 15-minute drive from Brunswick down to Freeport. Founded in 1789, Freeport was a sleepy village for its first 150 years where most people worked in shoe factories. All that changed when New England college students embraced preppy clothing and launched the local retailer L.L. Bean to its legendary success. Since then, over 170 retailers, outlets, shops, and restaurants have moved in, and Freeport is now Maine's most visited tourist destination. Its four million annual visitors even surpass visitor numbers "down east," as Mainers say, at Acadia National Park.
This day was no different. Shoppers carrying impressive arrays of bagged goods flooded the sidewalks and walked purposefully to their next destinations. L.L. Bean's flagship store attracted a particularly large crowd. Several people queued up to take pictures with a giant model of Bean's famous leather and rubber hunting boot. I meanwhile searched for a parking space, something noticeably unfamiliar since moving to Maine.
My destination that afternoon was the Harraseeket Inn, an 84-room hotel located just across the street from L.L. Bean. To its credit, the inn has maintained a charming and quaint flavor despite its size. The front lobby is a cozy lounge with pleasant antiques, wood-framed fireplaces, and replicas of Audubon's Maine bird drawings. At night, patrons unwind here with seared scallops, local cheeses, lobster crepes, and delicious wines while waiting for dinner at the award-winning Maine Dining Room across the hall.
I came here to attend a public outreach meeting put on by RESTORE: The North Woods, a local environmental group. The session fittingly took place in the Androscoggin Room, named for the Maine river responsible for the Clean Water Act of 1970. To my surprise, the meeting was somewhat of a wine and cheese party. Some two dozen people mingled inside and enjoyed a buffet of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads while a server with a clip-on bowtie offered soft drinks and wine. Opposite the buffet, a panel display offered brochures, stickers, and buttons about RESTORE and its objectives. Toward the back were forty or so chairs in front of a podium and white screen.
Founded in 1992, RESTORE: The North Woods is a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation in New England. To this end, RESTORE proposed the creation of a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve (MWNPP) in 1994. According to the proposal, the park would encompass 3.2 million acres of wildlands in northern Maine, an area larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. It would protect thousands of miles of rivers and springs, some of New England's last old-growth forests, and critical habitat for endangered wildlife all while providing outstanding wilderness recreation with 1,250 miles of hiking trails and world-class fishing and hunting opportunities. The presentation today was on the MWNPP proposal and other issues threatening wilderness in Maine.
Jym St. Pierre, RESTORE's Maine director, had everyone sit down, so he could start. St. Pierre is a midsized and wiry Mainer with a handlebar mustache and a temperament that is rational to a fault. Dressed in a tweed blazer and cradling a glass of red wine, St. Pierre spoke slowly and phlegmatically. "If nothing had changed, we wouldn't be advocating for a large national park." He paused and then smiled. "But everything changed." In the late 1880s, a handful of individuals-the timber barons-acquired almost all of Maine's unorganized territory. They logged the forests but also kept them undeveloped and allowed public access for recreation so long as it did not interfere with logging operations. But when mills began scaling back their operations in the 1980s-as Great Northern Paper Company did in Millinocket-the timber barons started to sell their lands. Maine's last 20 years comprise the greatest land swap in our national history. Over seven million acres of land changed hands in the last eight years alone. With two dozen new owners, whose interests range from logging to conservation and from real estate to resort development, conservationists like St. Pierre must miss the loggers.
St. Pierre is a professional conservationist. After earning degrees in philosophy and natural resource economics from the University of Maine, St. Pierre spent 13 years with the Maine Department of Conservation, working, as he put it, "in just about every capacity." In 1989, the Wilderness Society opened a northeast regional office and asked St. Pierre to direct its Maine program. He accepted the position and split his time between the Wilderness Society, National Forest Alliance, Sierra Club, and nine other public interest groups, several of which he helped found or direct. "Nobody in Maine has more working knowledge of land use in the unorganized territories than Jym-or more passion for it" said Jonathon Carter, Executive Director of the Forest Ecology Network. St Pierre joined RESTORE in 1995 to work towards the creation of the proposed park.
"This is our window of opportunity," St. Pierre told us. "If history is an indication, we go through long periods of relatively stable ownership and brief periods of volatile ownership. The period we're in is very volatile. It presents the opportunity for conservation if the public is willing and able to step up to the table."
Also in attendance that afternoon was Roxanne Quimby, a philanthropist who has purchased over 80 thousand acres to donate to a future MWNPP. She arrived late and sat towards the back anonymously. With her weathered complexion, bulky sweater, and canvas totes, Quimby looked more like a bag lady than a millionaire-entrepreneur. Had anyone identified the 57-year-old with long gray pigtails and a stubby nose as Roxanne Quimby, the room may have applauded. No person has promoted the MWNPP proposal as singularly and zealously as Quimby, and considering RESTORE's impressive list of celebrity supporters-whose ranks include Walter Cronkite, Harry Belafonte, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, Ted Danson, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Reeves-Quimby is an unlikely champion. But then again, nothing about her story is probable.
Quimby grew up in Lexington, an affluent suburb northwest of Boston. After earning a BFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute, she moved to Maine with her future husband in 1973 because "it was the only place I could afford land." She spent her three thousand dollar-life-savings to purchase 30 acres in rural Dexter and built a back-to-basics cabin. The couple, and soon their twin son and daughter, lived simply without electricity, running water, or plumbing. "I gave my kids a real gift," Quimby told me. "That unusual way of living very close to the land, it keeps you really in touch with nature."
Eventually, she and her husband split, and as her twins grew up, Quimby realized that her minimal income from selling crafts at fairs and flea markets could not pay for college. She started waiting tables to make ends meet. In 1984, she met Burt Shaviz, a beekeeper, while hitch-hiking downtown to the post-office. The "bee guy," as locals called him, was a New York "refugee" who used to work as a photographer for Time and Life magazines. Like Quimby, he preferred the simple life, living in a turkey coop turned cabin and selling honey from his roadside van for money. Quimby began making decorative glass jars for Shaviz's honey, and their relationship soon became romantic.
Quimby, whose Harvard Business School-educated father taught her to be entrepreneurial, naturally wondered how to use the two thousand pounds of beeswax, a byproduct from honey production, that Shaviz kept in his shed. She decided to turn it into hand-dipped and sculpted candles, and later into lip balm, hand salves, and other skin care products. She designed and drew labels that featured Shaviz's untidy bearded face for all their products. In 1991, the couple incorporated Burt's Bees, which quickly became the nation's best-selling line of natural personal care products.
Burt and Quinby made millions and split. He enlarged his turkey coup while she moved to a quiet house with modest modern amenities in Winter Harbor, Maine near Acadia. Having bought out Burt years ago, in 2006 Quimby sold 80 percent of Burt's Bees for 173 million dollars. This fall, Clorox bought the company for 913 million dollars, giving Quimby more than 300 million dollars for her remaining share.
I spoke with Quimby in the Maine Dining Room after the RESTORE meeting. (As we left the Androscoggin Room, she handed a check to St. Pierre who routinely folded it in half, placed it in his chest pocket, and thanked the benefactor.) We sat at the bar where Quimby sipped a glass of wine. I followed the State of Maine's alcohol laws and had water. I asked her how she became a conservationist. "My background is as an artist, so beauty is really important to me," she told me, munching on amuse-gueules. "I find that natural vistas are far more beautiful than manmade anything. Preserving natural vistas is very important to me in terms of aesthetics. They are so much more beautiful than cities and suburbs and shopping centers, which are all so ugly."
For Quimby, however, the decision to buy wildlands was economic. It was a good investment. "I sold my company a few years ago for far more money than any individual needs. When you get into that position, you think-or at least I thought-'What is the most valuable thing I can do with that money? What is it that money can't buy?' What could I buy that would be more valuable to invest my money in than something that is in short supply. Land has a permanent value, and the fact that they're not making it anymore means it has to be worth more on all levels, not just monetary ones. The best investment I can make is buying lands to preserve the environment."
One week later, I met with Gene Conlogue, Millinocket's Town Manager. Sitting behind an untidy desk, Conlogue leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and narrowed his brow. "A national park in northern Maine is just a nonstarter for us," he said. "It's a very ill-conceived idea. The very area that RESTORE wants to target for the national park is the very heart of Maine's wood-basket." Conlogue fears a MWNPP would kill Millinocket's wood-products industry. "You would be throwing away what we have now. You would be gambling our future on a roll of the dice with questionable benefits."
Conlogue, a big-bellied man in his sixties, applied for his position because, he told me, "I'm a person who likes I challenge-you hear a lot of people say this in your life-and I like people. I like dealing with people, trying to figure out solutions for people. My door is always open. If people have concerns, most people don't need an appointment to come see me. I don't say it to brag or whatever, but its not every community you walk in to see the municipal manger and you walk in to see him." Soon after taking to post in 1999, Conlogue formed the Maine Woods Initiative. It had two objects, Conlogue explained. "The number one plank was there will be no national park in northern Maine. The other plank was to do things that would benefit the economy in northern Maine."
According to a study by Thomas Powers, Conlogue's two positions are contradictory. The Powers' Study, a 105-page report, peer-reviewed report that RESTORE commissioned, found that a national park in northern Maine would actually stimulate the deteriorating economy there. Powers, Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Montana, has taught and researched natural resource economics and regional development for over forty years, and arguably no one has more knowledge of how natural resources affect the economic wellbeing of households and communities.
Economists like Powers often look at population, employment, and income trends to diagnose the economic health of communities. For Millinocket, the prognosis was poor. From 1990-2000, the town lost twenty-five percent of its population. In 1998, only four to five percent of its jobs were directly related to forest products, a dramatic decrease considering Great Northern Paper Company employed one-third of entire region's population thirty years ago. Forest products also only accounted for seven percent of all income, and its wages fell thirty-one percent. Meanwhile, wages outside forest products increased by fifty-one percent.
Citing a history of national parks having strong, positive economic impacts, Powers predicted that a national park could bring northern Maine the economic diversification necessary to help its economy recover from the decline of forest products. In the last thirty years, job growth was three times the national average in gateway towns to national parks, income grew twice as fast in these towns. He projected that the park would only lead to a ten percent decline in forestry and a loss of 1,200 jobs. But the new residents a national park would draw would in itself create 3,600 jobs. Visitors to the park would generate an additional 1,500 jobs, only one-quarter of which would be tourist related.
Powers sympathized with locals who "fear that a park would bring hoards of tourists, second-home owners, and new residents who would congest the quality and character of northern Maine" and "that their values are being eroded by something beyond their control." But he overwhelmingly endorsed RESTORE's proposal.
Each September, the Common Ground Fair attracts fifty thousand fairgoers to central Maine. They come to admire blue-ribbon vegetables, pet goats, and eat apple pie-but also to learn how to compost, conserve energy, grow a garden, knit, practice low-impact forestry, and change public policy. Sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Common Ground Fair is as uncommon as it gets. Fairgoers munch on venison jerky and drink fresh cider while watching sheepdog demonstrations, draft horse shows, and my personal favorite contest, the Harry S. Truman Memorial Manure Toss, in which contestants throw balls of manure as far as they can.
Hundreds of nonprofit organizations, including RESTORE: The North Woods, table at the fair, and it was here that Roxanne Quimby met Jym St. Pierre one fall. As Quimby passed by RESTORE's table, she heard St. Pierre talking to someone about the MWNPP proposal. At that time, Quimby was still in the early stages of growing her business, but she wanted to do environmental good. "Roxanne realized this was a great idea, a big idea, and it captured her imagination. She wanted to help by using some of her profits to acquire land for the park," remembers St. Pierre.
In 1999, Burt's Bees donated two million dollars to the Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy for the preservation of 185,000 acres of forest in northwest Maine. Soon after, Quimby started to buy tracts of land with her own money. Just two years later, she owned 8,500 acres. "I can't derive long-term satisfaction by filling little jars with cream," Quimby told a Bangor Daily News reporter. "I can think of no better thing to do with Burt's Bees' profits than to return them to the earth." Later in the article, she rebutted the opposition's fears that a park would harm northern Maine's economy, "The economy up there is in shambles and it has been for 100 years." One month later she told a New York Times reporter that her opponents "talk about the economy as if there were something at stake. It's the shakiest and most fragile economy I have ever seen."
As Quimby's land grabs-and her blunt economic forecasts-increasingly became front-page news, her opposition grew more clamorous. "Message from northern Maine to Quimby: Leave us and our way of life alone," wrote Gene Conlogue in a letter to the Bangor Daily News. "We don't want your park or your unfortunate, inaccurate, and unfair depictions of the hard-working people of our part of the state." Jim Busque, the hunting town councilman joined Conolgue. "When someone comes here and wants to take our life away from us, it's like thieves in the night," he told the Boston Globe. "What right do they have to come up here and tell us how to live? The arrogance." Millinocket, Greenville, and Bangor-northern Maine's major cities-passed resolutions opposing the park. So did the state Legislature.
Quimby, however, continued to force the issue. She closed her land to hunting, fishing, ATVing, and snowmobiling, thereby rejecting the common use doctrine's open access promise that traditional landowners embraced. St. Pierre warned her to back off and keep a lower profile. "She underestimated the depth and breadth and volume of the resistance," he said. "Roxanne was very optimistic. I think she really expected that she would buy land, then say she wanted to donate it to become a national park, and everyone would jump up and cheer. I tried to caution her about the resistance that would happen. It jolted her." Conlogue, aided by conservative activist Mary Adams, printed bumper stickers, tee shirts, and hats with pithy slogans like "RESTORE: Boston, Keep ME Beautiful," "Don't Fence ME in," and "Stop Roxanne." They became a fixture at every gas station north of Waterville.
"I was surprised by how strong and vocal the opposition was," she told me "But I think the reason for that is that I've done a reality test here. I think many people feel that if they stick their heads in the sand and don't confront the problem, then the problem doesn't exist. But as a private landowner, I can cut off your snowmobile trail. I can keep you from hunting here. I can keep you from doing all the things you believe in. That's a problem isn't it? Wouldn't you prefer some kind of public ownership where at least you have a say because if I own it, you don't. I'm catalyzing the discussion."
The immaturity of the debate frustrated St. Pierre. "People slap on a 'Stop Roxanne' bumper sticker and throw on a 'RESTORE: Boston' tee-shirt. It makes people feel good for a few minutes but doesn't solve any problems. But it's symbolic of the level of public debate about this. I think for most rational people who objectively look at this issue favor our proposal-especially given the situation where the manufacturing base is failing and hurting communities like Millinocket. A national park would help environmentally; it would help economically; it would help recreationally; it would have cultural benefits. Why doesn't it happen? It doesn't make political sense to a lot of people, and political sense is often the inverse of logic. There are still, despite decades of economic decline, people in Millinocket who hold out hope that somebody is going to buy the Great Northern Mill and the good old days are going to come back. There's a lot of denial. Human beings have an enormous capacity for denial. At some point, I hold people like Gene responsible for holding up progress. We can hardly afford to do that anymore."
I told Conlogue about St. Pierre's frustrations. "I'm glad to hear that," he beamed. "That means we got to him. The problem you get into with all of these things-and this is one of the caveats of being in a political process-one of the things that you always end up doing is oversimplifying and stereotyping your opponents. And you do that because you need to be able to rally the troops behind your cause, behind some relatively simple themes that people can be on board with and can remember. But I try to keep it based on issues and not personalities."
In June 2003, Conlogue organized a rally to protest the MWNPP proposal. The event drew 300 supports to the Big Moose Inn just north of Millinocket-an ironic venue considering northern resorts like this one would surely benefit from the increased visitors a national park would bring-for the "Maine Woods Film Festival: Take One." Conlogue, who was quite proud of the event, eagerly reminisced.
"That was a response to something Jym and his crowd came up with," he told me. "They formed this group called Americans for a National Park or something or other. The list of members was mostly Hollywood celebrities who have never been to Maine, certainly not this part of Maine. They're solutions looking for problems. Christopher Reeves was quoted in an article saying that he thought it was important to preserve this land in the State of Maine because he'd flown over it once on his way back from Europe-what kind of absolute stupidity is that!"
That year, RESTORE did create a new group called Americans for a Maine Woods National Park, and its 110 members did include prominent celebrities, environmentalists, businesspeople, and writers from around the country. Conlogue invited every Americans for a Maine Woods National Park member to his event but none of them showed. "I would like to think that these people who would take my livelihood away would at least come meet me face-to-face," Conlogue told the crowd.
Serving as the evening's emcee, Conlogue welcomed volunteers who donned paper masks with celebrities' faces. State Senator Paul Davis played Robert Redford. "I have nothing to say about the North Woods because I've never been here," he quipped, holding Redford's picture in front of his face. Other festivities included a Moxie drinking contest-in which contestants chugged the foul tasting Maine soft drink responsible for the origin of the same word-and commentary from Conlogue. His RESTORE jokes that likened St. Pierre and others to stuck-up Bostonians were most popular. "This is a Moxie and pretzel affair, as opposed to a wine and cheese party," he yelled. At one point Conlogue pointed to a coyote pelt in the corner. "Poor Jymmy got into a terrible fracas with a black bear and they skun him."
"Our Maine Woods Film Festival was designed to be a farce," he told me. "But it also had a serious purpose. We don't have glamorous movie stars, but we have our own people here. You're not going to take anything away from us. The support in this area is galvanized. There's a handful that would like the national park. This is like an Ivory Soap Commercial, 99 44/100 percent pure-pure anti-park."
"Burt's Bees is over ninety-nine percent natural too," I replied.
"We don't use it here."
Matt Klingle's office was a mess. Haphazard heaps of books and journals crowded a sizable table at its center and overflowed onto the floor. Sitting behind the table, two students with notebooks in their laps furiously scribbled notes like novice stenographers determined to record his every word. Klingle spoke rapidly and precisely as if he was reading through written responses to their questions. The students soon left, and Klingle invited me in.
Klingle is a beloved Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Bowdoin College where I am a student. He has burnt orange hair, and wore a turtleneck and soft shell jacket. "Talking to him is like flipping through an encyclopedia," one of his students told me. "We'll be talking about telemark skiing and all of a sudden he's telling the history of why Atlantic salmon is the totemic species for restoration."
The history of environmentalism, Klingle told me, usually follows "a stereotypical and expected storyline in that it followed the story as wilderness as a threat to wilderness spoiled to wilderness periled to wilderness protected. The problem is along the way in protecting wilderness there has been a lot of unsavory history-case in point most of the national parks of the trans-Mississippi West. In order to create a late 19th century notion of wilderness, one in which human beings were temporary visitors, you had to expel other human beings who had less power. Native peoples were expelled from lands that now encompass Yellowstone National Park, and they were relegated to sideshows where they sold curios on the edge of the road for white tourists who were entering the park."
The reason he brought that up, he told me, is because he sees the same dynamics playing out in Maine today. "When critics of plans of Roxanne Quimby and RESTORE: the North Woods say 'she has no conception of what its like to live here,' they are invoking the sort of counter-history of those people living in rural regions, of those people who are on the margins of power-and invoking it against people in power who often felt that wilderness areas are the privileged domain of the well-heeled, the urban, and the educated."
Klingle thought that people like St. Pierre or Powers who advocate service economy jobs over the old extractive industry jobs because the latter will be better and safer ("because you're not going to worry about your arm getting crushed in a press or a widow maker falling down and crushing you") overlook a few important things. Extractive jobs, for example, are unionized and come with incredible benefits and pensions. Mill workers could retire at a reasonably young age as a result. But, more important, Klingle told me, is "the issue of independence, autonomy, and pride in your work. Although you may be working for a big company like International Paper, there is a certain degree of skill, dexterity, and manual strength that went in these jobs. Whether you romanticize it or not, those jobs, particularly for people that did not have higher education, have a certain degree of pride and honor. That's something the opponents don't realize. They don't realize the deep attachment that Americans have to work and different types of work. They often see particular types of work being alien to any appreciation of nature. Yet to create a national park, you will have to rely on a lot of systems of unequal labor. You're going to have people who clean those bathrooms and turn down those sheets. Those jobs pay less. Those jobs won't be as satisfying or provide this pride of place."
Klingle was not sure if there will be a national park in northern Maine, but he told me if it did happen, "the political and economic and ethical costs to it would be exceedingly high. And the trouble is those costs would not be born at all by the people who are pushing the park forward. They would be born as they have in the past all too often by those with less money, with less power, and with less political influence."
Before leaving Millinocket, I took a drive with Marcia McKeague, the president of Katahdin Forest Management, a little company that manages 300 thousand acres of timberlands, to see some working forests for myself. We drove five or ten minutes north of Millinocket and then pulled onto an unmarked one-lane dirt road. "We build all these roads and then maintain them for the timber harvests," she said. "Other people can and do use these roads and this land a lot. I'll give you an orange vest so you don't get shot."
We stopped in a forest of spruce, red hemlock, yellow birch, eastern hemlock, balsam fir, sugar maple, and white pine. Other than occasional stubby stumps and a couple-inch layer of twigs and sticks called logging slash (or coarse woody debris to use the scientifically attractive term), this forest looks no different than any other. "In this area we have a bunch of different stages of shelter and wood-cutting. We removed some of the slower growing, less healthy trees to make room for the more healthy trees to grow," she explained. "You can see patches of green. That's all new growth naturally generated. For the most part, we're not planting these forests after we cut. They're growing back. We're trying to do the cut that makes the natural regeneration better. Kind of influencing the species and the quality that comes back. What we do, and almost everyone in the industry uses some variation of this, is we use a computer model that has information on the expected growth rates of different species on different types of sites (whether they be faster growing or slower growing sites). You project out into the future what will come back each time. Then a forester, like myself, will write a prescription for want they want removed and want they want left. We look for a reasonable spacing and density of the trees we leave."
I asked her how she felt about the MWNPP proposal. "From my point of view, I'd hate to see it," she said. "We're still using newspapers, toilet paper, and lumber. I'd hate to see the wood tied up and saved because when you save it what does it do? It grows old, falls over, and dies. That may be pretty, it may be natural, it may be whatever, but if it's managed, why not use that resource? It's keeping a lot of us going up here. It's something we all use. Give it time and it will grow back. Trees are wonderful."
Roxanne Quimby said she does not feel sorry for the people in northern Maine. "Sitting around and lamenting about the good old days and how things have changed is not a proactive way of shaping the future you want to live in," she told me. "Overwhelmingly large forces have created these changes that are way beyond any one individual's ability to resist, so my feeling is, like, take the bull by the horns. When things are rapidly changing, it creates enormous opportunities that did not exist before the changes started to occur. I think that the universe give us opportunities all the time. They're always there. We can chose the exploit them to create abundance, or we can be so focused on the negative that we don't even see the opportunities. I took a grumpy beekeeper that lived at the end of a dirt road and turned him into a cult hero. Maine has tons of intangible, marketable aspects, just sitting there like gold bars on the road that are just waiting to be picket up on the side of the road and sold to the country."
I asked Conlogue if a Maine Woods National Park with three million visitors a year would be a success story for Millinocket. "It would depend if they left their wallets at home or brought them with. Knowing that the forest products industry is shut down, I don't think people here would support it. Ultimately, the marketplace will dictate what you will become. Sometimes you're more a passenger than a driver. As a preferred option, that would be on the bottom of people's lists here. After everything else has failed, you would go there but go there grudgingly. A national park just isn't going to happen. The governor is opposed. The congressional delegation is opposed. We have a proclamation here over on the wall that the legislature adopted a few years ago, a resolution against the park."
Despite the opposition, there is ultimately a crying need for this kind of large-scale conservation in northern Maine. That's what compels Jym St. Pierre to keep fighting. "What's the alternative?" he told me. "We have a place of national significance that is under threat from unsustainable logging and unprecedented logging pressures. I believe we ought to do something.
"I try to read a lot of history of other national parks because it gives me hopes. How long it took, and how they went through the same trajectory-that's what gives me hope. It took years and years. Sometimes decades. I'm not going to be here in that long but my kids will. That's what I do this for. I've never found anybody yet that would undo any of our parks, state or national. Someday we'll have a Maine Woods National Park."