There may be plenty of strong arguments against turning 70,000 acres of Maine’s northern woods into a national park, but the arguments against using research to put the park idea to a test sound weak.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop residents of the Katahdin region from lining up and telling Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that the Maine Woods National Park idea is a non-starter, and they don’t need any more information about it.

Opponents have some heavy political muscle behind them, with both of the state’s U.S. senators weighing in on their side, and both houses of the state Legislature voting to pass a resolution saying that a feasibility study would be unwelcome.

You have to wonder what these people are afraid of.

If they are right, and the creation of a park in what is now privately owned forest would result in a loss of thousands of jobs in the forest products industry, then the study should show that.

At least then both sides of the debate would have a common set of facts to argue over.

Instead, what we have are competing hunches. Would a park cost jobs? Who knows? The experience of other national parks in other parts of the country suggest that parks can be economic engines that create jobs. It’s worth knowing if the same thing could happen here.

Maine is in the very unusual position of having a large landowner willing to donate a huge tract of significant forest habitat to the nation.

Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, controversial in some quarters because of her sometime opposition to hunting and motorized recreation on land she owns, is giving the state a rare opportunity to at least ask the question of whether a new national park is a good idea. We would not have the opportunity to answer that question if it weren’t for her offer.

Maine has enjoyed a history of public access to privately owned land. But as ownership patterns of the northern woods change, there is no guarantee that this unusual situation will survive.

It pays to think ahead and consider what would lie ahead if forest is sold to commercial recreation outfits that want to keep the public out.

Supporters of commercial forestry and traditional pastimes such as hunting and fishing have nothing to fear from a feasibility study of what a national park would mean to the people of the state, both those who live near by and those who don’t.

Salazar should go ahead and order that study, despite the opposition he heard in Maine last week. Without research like this, we won’t know what we are arguing about.

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