Senate bill aims to improve access to Katahdin woods and waters

A view of Katahdin can be seen along the Loop Road in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

News of the possible expansion of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was welcomed Wednesday by area businesses and users of the Katahdin Area Wilderness Park.

Senator Angus King introduced a bill last week to improve visitor access to the woods and waters of Katahdin. Co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins, Senate Bill 4784 would allow the National Park Service to acquire tracts of land to create a new south entrance to the park, providing easier access to and from Millinocket. King’s office announced details of the bill in a statement on Wednesday.

Currently, the southernmost road to the National Monument is in the southeast corner of the 87,500-acre park, but it takes about an hour to reach Millinocket and East Millinocket, the two largest towns in the area, both one hour north of Bangor and easily accessible from Interstate 95.

Local business owners in the Katahdin area rejoiced at the news, saying a new entrance would cut the travel time from Millinocket to the park in half.

“This is just great news. Anything they can do to help our tourism economy is a blessing,” wildlife photographer Anita Mueller, co-owner of Moose Prints Gallery and Gifts, told Millinocket.

“People are coming here right now looking for the solace of the outdoors, especially after COVID for the past few years. We see more and more people wanting open spaces.

The most popular feature of Woods and Waters of Katahdin appears to be the 17 mile loop road that offers views of Katahdin. The national monument’s river system along the East Fork of the Penobscot River and Wassataquoik Creek is also becoming increasingly popular, according to Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters.

The National Park Service estimates that around 40,000 visitors came to the national monument in 2020 and 2021.

By comparison, half of Maine’s state parks drew at least as many visitors in 2019 and 2020, numbers for recent years were available, and many drew two to four times as many, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. In 2020, there were 10 Maine state parks that had more than 100,000 visitors, according to the bureau.

The bill King introduced also allows the National Park Service to acquire buildings outside the park boundaries for monument trustees, in cooperation with willing landowners. Any expansions would protect traditional hunting, fishing and snowmobile use on the acquired property and are “expressly prohibited from being on eminent domain,” King’s office said in the statement.

Brownfield’s Gregg Hesslein and Scarborough’s Mike Campbell have a coffee while looking out over the East Arm of the Penobscot River at the Lunksoos campsites of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

ENTRANCE TO THE PARKING LOT MORE FLUID

“The extensions authorized by the bill would allow for smoother entry into the park, bring visitors closer to the heart of the Millinocket community and further develop the Katahdin area’s tourism economy,” King said.

The land in Katahdin Woods and Waters was donated by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby to the National Park Service and designated a national monument by former President Barack Obama on August 24, 2016 – but only after years of heated debate over whether it would help or hurt the area’s outdoor economy and culture.

John Raymond, president of the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club, said snowmobiling and ATVing continue to attract more tourists to the area.

“It’s here to stay. There’s not much we can do about it,” Raymond said of Woods and Waters of Katahdin. “I still believe that motorized recreation will be much better for the region than the park will be. That remains to be seen. But people who come here to ride mountain bikes come here with deep pockets.

Others in the Millinocket area were happy with Wednesday’s news.

Sean Brady takes a photo of the view from the lookout on Loop Road at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in 2017. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“It would be nice to have the entrance closer to Millinocket. It would be great for campgrounds in the area. We send people there. But some people tend not to make the 45-minute drive. That deters them. A closer entrance would be easier,” said Wendi Munson, manager of Wilderness Edge Campground located one mile from downtown Millinocket.

At the New England Outdoor Center, a few miles from Millinocket, owner Matt Polstein is expanding Twin Pine Camps, where his guiding service caters to snowmobilers, Nordic skiers, mountain bikers and rafting enthusiasts. A new open-air building and a microbrewery will open there in the coming months.

Polstein estimates that the national monument has helped grow his business 5-10% in recent years, and the future of the monument was a consideration when he planned the expansion of his business.

“In northern Maine, 5 or 10 percent of your business is critical,” Polstein said. “I think it’s exceptional. This will really improve the benefits for businesses located at the southern end of the monument. »

DARK SKY ONE POINT OF LIGHT

John Meader of Fairfield, the director of Northern Stars Planetarium and Educational Services, has visited Katahdin Woods and Waters a dozen times to enjoy the night sky – because the national monument is designated an International Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark- Sky Association. Meader said accessibility and signage within the monument has improved over the past six years, and while the dirt roads present challenges, he likes how they slow people down.

“The very idea of ​​dark skies is a treasure. If you go around the world, you know, you don’t have the same sky. It’s important that people realize that this is a resource” , Meader said, “And that attracts people. It’s literally the darkest sky east of the Mississippi in the continental United States.”

Sam Deeran, acting executive director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, said that since he and his partner moved to a township just outside the park’s southernmost entrance a year ago, he saw more and more people entering the monument.

“As for visitors looking for more foreland, I think more and more people are turning to the loop road and the park service provides a good map for walking the loop road so to have a great half or full day,” Deeran said. “We also get a good number of inquiries about paddling the river. I can say for the record that there is always a buzz around new campsites by the river.

King’s bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.


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Norman D. Briggs