Each spring, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation sponsor National Park Week, this year designated as April 19–27. To kick off the celebration, Saturday, April 19, and Sunday, April 20, are fee-free entrance days.
I have to admit, though, that while I generally love our national parks, they have sometimes frustrated me. They’ve closed when I most wanted them open and suffered so many incursions into their peace and solitude that I often wonder if an experience in them will ever again match the Ken-Burnsian image I have of them in my mind. As a buffer against these modern-day assaults, I think we need to set aside more national parklands — as many as we can get.
So when I read about Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Qimby’s attempt to gift a new national park and the opposition to it, I thought: How could anyone be against having a new national park?
A beehive of trouble
Roxanne Quimby, who owns land in Maine’s North Woods with stunning vistas of Mount Katahdin, the state’s highest peak, has been trying for years to turn a huge parcel of it — with an expanse of forest, granite outcroppings, and abundance of wildlife — into a national park. But ferocious opposition has stalled her plan, partly out of antipathy toward Quimby, who closed off her lands to hunters and snowmobilers, defying a longtime Maine tradition; and partly because many in this strongly independent region loathe the idea of giving the federal government in Washington a toehold in the region.
Quimby acquired her thousands of acres of Maine land after co-founding and later selling Burt’s Bees, a skincare company known for lip balm. She is one of the nation’s 100 largest landowners and has been trying to establish a national park for years by giving more than 100,000 acres to the federal government. Her son, Lucas St. Clair, is now spearheading a grass-roots campaign to win over the hearts and minds of local residents. What Lucas wants to do is donate another 75,000 acres of land for what the St. Clair family calls the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park. Low-impact activities, such as hiking, fishing, and camping, would be allowed. In addition, the St. Clairs want to donate an adjacent area of equal size as a national recreation area, which would permit hunting and snowmobiling.
Many local residents, however, oppose the idea. They distrust the federal government and resent Mrs. Quimby for closing her lands to some of their favorite activities. They worry that if the government should get a foot in the door, so to speak, it would seize control of local decision-making, take over even more land, ban hunting and snowmobiling altogether, and ruin the local forest products industry by restricting air emissions from mills and limiting the timber supply. In addition, most people in the area feel that working in a mill year-round is better than having a seasonal job in a national park.
Those are hard beliefs to counter in a poor economy.
Birthing a new national park is not easy
Since Congress named Yellowstone the first national park in 1872, most national parks — including the Grand Canyon — received lesser designations, such as national monument, long before they officially became parks. In fact, the most recent national park, Pinnacles in California, which was signed into law in January 2013, was done only after being named a national monument in 1908.
Today, grand gestures of philanthropy are rare. And even for the old, established, well-off families, such as the Rockefellers and Mellons, trying to build national parks wasn’t easy. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. spent three convoluted decades trying to overcome local opposition so that he could add land to Grand Teton National Park.
So, go out and enjoy one of your national parks in April. And remember, they could be a dying breed.
Do you think creating a new national park from donated land in Maine is a good idea, or will it destroy the local way of life?
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,