A Three Rivers National Park: Will It Work?
By Ray "Bucky" Owen

Never heard of it? Neither have I, but east of Baxter State Park I can conceive of a small national park centered around three rivers, the East Branch of the Penobscot, the Seboeis, and the Wassataquoik, all special places in Maine.

But let me step back for a minute. When Roxanne Quimby first proposed a 3 million acre national park for Maine, I was vehemently opposed to it; too big, too much federal intervention, too great an impact on future forest products and traditional recreation. At the time I was a board member of both The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Society of Maine and we advocated for large scale conservation easements that limited development, preserved traditional uses, and encouraged long term sustainable forestry. The Plum Creek easement, promoted by TNC, FSM and AMC is a good example of such an easement.

Yet the East Branch watershed is special and needs some protection. When I became Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife I automatically became a member of the Baxter State Park (BSP) Authority, the governing board for the Park. One of my first actions was to look at the land between BSP and the East Branch, a natural boundary for the Park. We had acquisition funds available but no willing sellers so we turned to the south and eventually purchased the land between BSP and the West Branch of the Penobscot, another natural boundary for the Park. Subsequently, the land to the east has changed hands several times, with Roxanne Quimby eventually purchasing much of it under her Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. (EPI) name. So these lands are now effectively preserved. In fact, Governor Baxter wanted to extend BSP to the East to encompass Katahdin Lake and the Wassataquoit Valley but was unable to purchase the lands. His vision is now partially completed.

Recently I attended two meetings with Lucas St. Clair, Roxanne Quimby’s son, who is now leading her land conservation efforts. The first, at my home with a camp owner who lost his cabin on the East Branch when Roxanne purchased his leased land but who believes in Lucas’s vision; the second, with Ted Kaufman, executive director of Maine Audubon and several of Lucas’s wildlife and land management advisors from as far away as Montana. SAM was invited to attend but chose not to.

As Paul Reynolds pointed out in a recent edition of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, Lucas loves to fish and hunt, believes in the traditional uses of Maine’s forest lands, supports certified forestry and is sensitive to the economic needs of the Katahdin region. I found him passionate about the land and believable about his vision; a vision that establishes a small, perhaps 100,000 acre, national park to the east of and contiguous with BSP. A park that would complement BSP, protect key resources, enhance economic development, and preserve traditional uses throughout much of the area. It would be a combination of protected areas in a matrix of multiple use areas. The actual design and mechanism needs considerable thought, but the Adirondack Park in New York might be a model.

Visitors could hike into BSP along the Wassataquoik Valley to Katahdin Lake or Russell Pond destinations, or explore day hikes into the east side of BSP. They could canoe and fish the numerous waters, hike to special locations outside of BSP, stay at a camp ground or be catered at a Maine sporting camp, enjoy guided hunts in the fall, and XC ski or snowmobile trails in the winter. The more I think about it, the more I believe it can work; all this while also supporting the needs of the nearby forest industries. Designed carefully and packaged accordingly I believe folks from away will come.

An economic study of a proposed national park in this area indicated that hundreds of jobs could be created by establishing a park. Businesses in Patten, Shin Pond, Medway, Millinocket and East Millinocket would all benefit. Recently a BDN editorial asked if not a park, then what? I believe Lucas St. Clair has a vision for the area that deserves careful consideration. From an economic standpoint, the status quo is not an option.

Ray B. Owen is a wildlife educator and former commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

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