All Maine Matters

May 2006



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What about Katahdin Lake?
by Senator Paul Davis

This article (attached) is adapted from the remarks made by Senator Paul Davis during Senate debate on Thursday, April 13, 2006

When plans for the state to take possession of the 6,000-plus acres at Katahdin Lake were first made public, my greatest fear was that this project would be a hasty deal to “git ’er done” for the “opportunity of the century.” This opportunity is indeed historic, but did it warrant the haste and pressure of these past weeks? If this deal “has been in the works for more than three years” as we were told, why did it suddenly come down to a hundred yard dash, a matter of weeks, catching some of the stakeholders, if you will, completely off guard?

The Gardner family should be commended for making this offer possible. This is some beautiful property for the state to own. And, I’ve been there. And the Gardners also are looking out for their employees and the livelihood of the region.

But from my perspective, this land acquisition was planned and carried out by an elitist core of individuals looking at creating a lasting legacy of their own. They’ll never compare to Percival Baxter, and they’ve tried to use his words and his work to justify this plan. There may still be a better plan.

That man was clear on his objectives. He wanted a sanctuary for the animals, but also for the residents of Maine to experience their Maine heritage, a rugged woods heritage filled with beautiful landscapes and wilderness experiences beyond the reach of civilization. But he also realized that part of that heritage was the traditions Mainers have always applied to their woods and wilderness experience, and a quarter of “his park” is open to many of those traditions. His intention was never to make the land inaccessible. Off-road vehicles we have today for all seasons weren’t even considered when Baxter was creating his park or he may have found a way to incorporate them as well. With management, trails for off-road vehicles can make the park more accessible, and in more seasons, to more of Maine’s people, not just the ones fortunate enough to travel by floatplane. If we were to be true to what is perceived as Baxter’s wishes…would he condone access by floatplanes? Is that a wilderness experience? Does that contribute to the concept of a wildlife sanctuary?

Our mission should be to preserve the north Maine woods, not just this parcel, from over use and abuse, and that’s possible, and still share it among the conservationists, environmentalists, recreationists and the traditions of the north woods.

Dropping titles onto these different groups, conservationists, preservationists, environmentalists, recreationists does nothing to benefit the debate about this land. We all fill those roles, perhaps in different ways, but we want the same thing…preservation of beautiful land, appreciation of our Maine landscapes, wildlife and wilderness. It is a large piece of land and it is possible to share it. Preventing any one group from using it as they always have is little more than theft…stealing part of their heritage, all of our heritage. It would be just as wrong to close off canoeing or hiking or birdwatching. Once we allow bits of these traditions and privileges to slip away they will be lost forever.

With this one parcel, we’ve lost traditional use of 4,000 acres, and only 2,000 acres will be left for traditional uses. With another parcel, we lost a complete township to any form of traditional uses. There will be more.

With this proposal, 7,000 acres in public lots will be sold. The group putting this plan together already has 14,000 acres. All to be traded for 6,000 acres at Katahdin Lake. The 6,000 acres are valued at $13 million. If you do the math that means the 6,000 acres is worth about $2,100 an acre and the 21,000 is worth about $750 an acre. The lots will be turned over to private interests. They will cut the land to be sure, but they will also allow traditional use as these lands are open now to traditional use. One of the fears I have though is that when the ownership passes — and surely it will, — will the traditional use still be there for the people who now have the use of this land?

It troubles me that the Gardners wanted to be able to cut the wood. It troubles me that a deal couldn’t have been made to cut that wood so that the lands could have been kept, as far as the public lots go, for traditional use to be there without selling them off. I don’t think this is a good deal for my district or for Maine.
Local families are not going to be allowed to snowmobile on Katahdin Lake. This plan will not allow that anymore. Hunters won’t be able to hunt there. There is a provision in the law that will allow floatplanes to land on the lake. Much has been said about Governor Baxter’s vision and how we got to appreciate his vision. If you read and study about Governor Baxter you will find his opinion of floatplanes wasn’t all that high.

A fellow told me, ‘Sell the land that the people have always been able to use to buy land that they have always been able to use to turn the land over to a Governmental agency or entity and tell them they can’t use it anymore. Using their treasure to get this land and now they can’t use it the way they always have.’ I cannot tell you the feelings of the Millinocket, Medway, East Millinocket, or Patten area; the hard feelings towards the park and the administration of it. I can tell you that there is a very adverse relationship. I fear that after this deal in a few years only a few people will be able to use the lake, probably the elite that have floatplanes will be the ones that will be going in there.
I think that a better deal could have been done. I believe this deal though it may be popular, it could be wrong.

There will always be more preservationists trying to preserve what we have, but without wanting us to use it, lest it be lost. Seems once the preservationists, stake their conservation claims many of our traditions and the land where we practiced them are lost. Have we really been such terrible stewards of the land, that now whole groups must be banned from using the land they have worked and appreciated for so many years?

Senator Davis (R-Sangerville) is in his fourth term and represents many towns and unorganized territories in Piscataquis County, and parts of Penobscot and Somerset Counties. Prior to his legislative service, he worked for the Maine State Police, retiring after 23 years. He serves as the leader of the Senate Republican caucus. Senator Davis is a graduate of the University of Maine and is involved with the local Kiwanis club in his community. He and his wife of 36 years, Patricia, have two children: Paul Davis, Jr. and his wife Rachael, and Heidi Dow and her husband Guy. Senator Davis and Patricia have four grandchildren.

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