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Studies Commissioned By Quimby Show Economic Benefits of National Parks
02/14/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Two studies commissioned by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby's foundation suggest that a national park in northern Maine could boost tourism, jobs and personal income in the region. Specifically, the studies find that similar communities with national parks and recreation areas outpace the national average for economic development.

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The studies by Headwaters Economics make no specific projections for park visitors or economic growth but they do suggest that a Maine Woods National Park and/or a national park and recreation area could produce more than 1,000 jobs over time if it's well-planned and if it encompasses about 150-thousand acres. Ben Alexander, the associate director of the Montana-based firm that conducted the research, said the job numbers are based on the experience of 16 other peer communities with national parks and recreation areas around the country where 1,000 jobs is the average number created. And he said that's just one of the benefits.

"From an economic performance standpoint all of those regions that had parks or had parks and recreation areas closely associated or nearby grew more quickly, created more jobs and personal income and attracted more people than the growth rates in Penobscot and Piscataquis Counties or than the United States as a whole over the last 40 years," said Alexander.

He said not only do the park communities fare better than average but their economies are more diversified and can support a variety of year-round activities. The findings also suggest that there would be little downside for the forest products industry. Dr. Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the Muskie School of Public Service said the studies are well executed and show why the park idea is worthy of more thought.

"I'm certainly a supporter of looking at this in more detail," said Colgan. "I think that there are an awful lot of questions about how it could be done and time tables and so on. I think it could be done badly and not be a very good idea and I think it can be done well and would be a good idea."

Colgan said to be done well a national park must have a solid economy grounded in recreational amenities such as hotels and restaurants. It has to offer diverse recreational opportunities which the Katahdin region already does. And Colgan said, the third requirement for success is careful planning and development of the infrastructure needed to support the rest. But longtime park opponent Bob Meyers of the Maine Snowmobile Association isn't ready to change his mind just yet.

"All of these reports we take with a grain of salt," said Myers. "I mean clearly, they're looking for people to go out and do research and this paints a very rosy picture of what's going to happen when there's a national park and I don't know, I just don't think people are buying that."

Meyers said the studies don't point out the types of activities that are prohibited in a national park, activities like hunting and snowmobiling and logging, for example. Nor, he said, do they illustrate the way a national park can change the character of a remote place like the Maine Woods with the construction of paved roads, something that could discourage some outdoor enthusiasts. Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby and her foundation known as Elliotsville Plantation are considering donating land for the creation of a national park. Lucas St. Clair, the president of the group's board is Quimby's son. He said a recreation area could also be part of the deal because it offers activities that a national park doesn't.

"And so having a combination of national park and recreation allows the best of both worlds," St. Clair said. "We get the equity of the brand that draws people from all around the world and we get traditional use and access protected into perpetuity."

St. Clair said there is no specific plan to create a national park and/or recreation area and the assumptions in the studies do not represent any official statement of position. Still, St. Clair said his organization does plan to increase access to its land in the near future for snowmobiling and even hunting which has previously been restricted.

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