An interview I did with legendary conservationist David Brower years ago provides a clue to why supporters of a Maine Woods National Park were unsuccessful in promoting the idea to two nearby towns, East Millinocket and Medway. Both towns held advisory referendums, and decisively rejected the proposal.

Brower was a corker. He was director of the Sierra Club, founded by John Muir, but decided it had become too timid and went off to found his own more radical group, Friends of the Earth.

Brower and fellow advocates had phenomenal success in convincing Congress to designate new national parks in the 1960s and early 1970s. Such heavily visited parks as Redwood, North Cascades and Capitol Reef all were created by acts of Congress.

I asked him how advocates built local support. He said they didn’t bother. “Local people never liked the idea,” he said. So how, then, did they succeed? “You just have to have a majority in Congress,” he said. “That’s all you need.”

So how might that happen? The Maine delegation could start the process, but won’t. Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin issued a joint statement after the referendums, saying, “Robust local support is essential for the success of any new endeavor.” They’re wrong in this case, as we will see in a moment.

Park supporters are no doubt frustrated, asking, “What did we did wrong?” They didn’t do anything wrong. They just appealed to the wrong audience.

Polls of Mainers regularly show enthusiastic support for a new national park, by 2-1 margins or greater. Polls of the area near the park, however, show just as many opposed. What’s going on?

Another clue was provided by one voter who said she opposed the park, but perhaps if it were closer than 60 miles away, she might see some benefit. That’s just the point. The primary benefits of a national park are not to a local area, or even a single state, but to the nation.

It’s easy to get caught up in economic studies that show, as advocates point out, substantial benefits from hosting a park. Yes, Jackson Hole wouldn’t exist without Yellowstone National Park — created in 1872. But if you’d taken a poll — the area was then largely uninhabited — it’s doubtful locals would have approved. Closer to home, if you’d asked people in Bar Harbor if they wanted Lafayette National Monument, designated in 1916, to become Acadia National Park in 1929, they’d have said no, too.

There is one delegation supporter — Rep. Chellie Pingree, whose 1st District, however, doesn’t include the park site. Mainers as a whole, like the park idea. The nation would love it. A majority of locals never will. Accept it, and move on.

Park advocates might ask Pingree to sponsor a bill, and she might. King, a non-native, might convert, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Trying to get Congress to approve a park, or even the required study, isn’t going to happen soon.

So should advocates give up? Absolutely not. Every national park that’s been created since Voyaguers, in 1971, was a national monument first. That’s how Acadia happened, too.

And here’s the thing about national monuments, as opposed to parks. They’re created by the president. No one else has any say. If I were Roxanne Quimby, I’d spend no more time pitching the plan to a local audience.

I’d bring the economic studies, polling results and the smashing success of Acadia — among the most popular of all national parks — to the White House. President Barack Obama already has created new national monuments, and there’s speculation he’ll designate more. Donated land, and a list of willing sellers, might be just the ticket.

It’s not as if people in the Millinocket area will be inconvenienced by a national park. The idea that the timber products industry will be damaged by putting 100,000 acres, or 200,000 off limits to harvesting is almost silly, any more than Baxter State Park, of comparable size, hurts the industry.

The value of timber products has declined, relative to Maine’s economy, because we’ve invested mostly in the paper industry and pulp-making, which are shrinking nationwide. Regions with robust woods economies specialize in sawlogs, veneer and other high-value products — and to get there, we need to grow much larger and better-managed trees, not pulpwood.

My prediction is that if a Maine Woods national monument is established and, some day, becomes a national park, it will be an economic boon to Maine, just as Acadia has been. And people from Millinocket may even go there — some day.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 30 years. Comment is welcomed at [email protected]

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