Not content with taking food away from hungry kids or health care away from the sick and the elderly, Gov. Paul LePage has now set his sights on taking public lands away from everyone.
LePage will travel next week to Washington, D.C., to testify at a kangaroo court of a hearing before the US House of Representative Committee on Natural Resources. There, he will continue to spread misinformation about the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
The monument was created last August by President Barack Obama and since has had a positive impact on the state and the Katahdin region, drawing new visitors and new economic investment.
But LePage is driven not by facts or a concern for the people of the state, but by a blind ideology that opposes the federal government out of spite.
The hearing is less about discovering the truth of national monuments and public lands and more about generating headlines for Republican politicians who want to demonstrate their allegiance to fringe groups like the Sovereign Citizens and the nut balls who violently took over a federal reserve last year.
The hearing comes as President Donald Trump is expected to launch an executive branch review of all the national monuments created in the country during the last two decades.
I worked on the creation of the Maine national monument with Elliotsville Plantation, a nonprofit foundation that donated the 87,000 acres to the National Park Service, for more than four years.
Now, eight months after its designation, we can say with evidence that opponents’ fears about the monument haven’t come true.
Maine’s national monument came into being after thousands of conversations with people all around the state, including those who were inclined to support it and those who were inclined to oppose. The result is unique.
Katahdin Woods and Waters was created with private land – not state or federal land – donated along with an endowment of $40 million to support operations and maintenance. That’s special and took into account concerns about costs to taxpayers.
The monument forever – it’s written into the deeds – protects access for snowmobiling and hunting, along with other traditional activities. There were snowmobiles on monument lands all winter long.
Groomed skiing trails were maintained and the monument began to fulfill its mission of being a four-season recreation and tourist designation.
CNN, in a story about the places people must visit in 2017, listed the monument among some of the biggest tourist draws in the world. You can’t buy positive publicity like that, especially with the state’s paltry budget to support tourism.
At the same time, there’s a new vibrancy in the region’s real estate market, new businesses are opening and a foundation has announced a $5 million investment in the region to create an outdoor education facility.
According to the Bangor Daily News, in just the first months of the monument being open, there was more car traffic visiting than there are residents in the towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Patten.
Even longtime opponents are coming around and oppose LePage’s efforts to undo the monument designation.
LePage will sit before a congressional hearing next week, and I expect he’ll say all kinds of crazy things about the land and the law. But he knows little about either.
President Obama acted lawfully and consistently with the Antiquities Act. And the land that became Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a helluva lot more than the wasteland that LePage describes.
To my knowledge, LePage, never one to let facts get in his way, has not visited the land. He’s never talked to the local chamber of commerce or the owners of new businesses in the region. He’s never floated the East Branch of the Penobscot River, he’s never climbed Barnard Mountain and looked across the valley to Mount Katahdin.
I have. And so have thousands of other people. Once you see the land, once you set foot on the trails or bike the old logging roads, or dip a line off the side of canoe into the river, you understand just how special this place is.
LePage, during his tenure as governor, has had few good things to say about our state. He complains about the people and looks into the woods and sees nothing but toothpicks and open pit mines.
But there’s a lot more to us and to our state. Katahdin Woods and Waters is introducing the world to inland Maine, to our state’s industrious history and the wonders of our big woods.
LePage can tell his lies. He can waive his arms and join the ugly chorus in Washington, D.C., that would trade away our country’s outdoor legacy.
But when the snow is gone and the mud is dry, the people will continue to come to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. And when they feel the rush of Haskell Pitch or climb through wild woods to the peak of a mountain, they will know that our governor and his enablers are wrong.
As governor, LePage has been a destroyer. Five mills have closed since 2011 and he has stood helplessly by, watching and complaining but doing little else. He’s done his worst to verbally tear down schools, and towns and cities, and health care. His vision of the state is based on subtraction, not addition.
Now he want’s to tear public land – your land – away from everyone. We can’t allow that to happen.