Couple makes case for North Woods national park

LEWISTON — Magnificent scenes flashed across the movie screen as the room filled with the sounds of loons, coyotes and rushing waters. Vivid images and recordings of moose, bear, deer, loons and an array of other wildlife were captured by the photography team Thomas and Lee Ann Szelog.

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The couple have spent the last 25 years documenting some of Maine's most majestic scenery through photography and writing. And their lifelong passion leads their effort today to capture hearts and minds as they call for the creation of a new national park right in Maine's vast northern woods.

"The wildlife has no voice and no choice, but we as humans have a powerful voice and a powerful choice," Lee Ann Szelog said Monday night as she addressed the crowd of nearly 100 people attending the Stanton Bird Club’s 93rd annual dinner. "It's about protecting this ecosystem for our future. Each one of us has the power to influence others."

The couple brought their ongoing effort to preserve 3.2 million acres in Maine's North Woods as the nation's newest national park. The idea — introduced more than 20 years ago by Restore: The North Woods — has drawn both interest and criticism over the last two decades.

The Szelogs spent the last five years documenting the splendor of the proposed Maine Woods National Park in an effort to raise awareness about the rich wildlife and delicate ecosystem existing there. The Maine Woods National Park Photo-Documentation Project is also showcased in a compelling book and traveling fine-art photography exhibit.

"Nature doesn't need the human species. The human species needs nature," Thomas Szelog said.

In 2011, businesswoman Roxanne Quimby proposed a smaller-scale version of the original plan. Over the years she used proceeds from the sales of her highly successful business, Burt’s Bees, to buy more than 100,000 acres of Maine timberland. She announced plans to donate 70,000 acres along the Penobscot River’s East Branch bordering on Baxter State Park to form the nucleus of a new national park.

The Szelogs' presentation showcased the wildlife of the proposed park and discussed the ecological benefits the preservation effort would provide.

"I think you're going to have a difficult time in the state of Maine when you talk about no hunting," said Dana Little of Auburn, a member of the Stanton Bird Club and a board member of the Androscoggin Land Trust. "I support the idea of a preserved park, but I don't know if it's ideal in Maine."

Little said his concern comes from the fact that designating the project as a national park would prohibit hunting and other popular land uses such as snowmobiling. He agrees with preserving the land, but points out that groups such as hunters or snowmobile enthusiasts might feel excluded from the land they love as much as conservationists on the other side. 

"I support the idea of a preserved park," Little said, adding, "You've got to work with people."

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Steve Crouse's picture

Northwoods Park Not Needed

What the Szelog's have conveinently left out of the debate about the proposed park plan is that they were able to travel over and film virtually everything that they propose to "save" without any permission (except on Elliotsville Plantation lands).
The people of these areas have, for hundreds of years, had a very good working relationship with the industrial landowners. We get to use those roads, forests and waters, and in return, they get to harvest the timber.
One of the problems I have, as a lifelong resident of rural Maine is that most of the folks that want to save us seem to be newcomers to the landscape. They can't seem to grasp the fact that I can step out my backdoor and go virtually anywhere in the north woods EXCEPT the Quimby lands.
To the Szelogs and anyone else that thinks that federal control of the northwoods is a good idea; The BEST way to save the northwoods is to ensure that it is profitable to grow, harvest, market, and process sustainably produced wood products.
We have our park now.
Why try to change a system that has given us this park with no tax dollars being spent.

Jeff Johnson's picture

National Park

The fact remains that locals want nothing to do with the national park. They see it as an infringement on their rights to access land that they've hunted, fished, forested, have camps on, and traveled through.

Seems to me that everyone who is pro-park is not from the area. The Szelogs lived in Pemaquid and Whitefield, and visited the area to take photos.

I agree to a small extent that the owner of the land should be able to do what they want with it, but this doesn't address the fact that the leaseholders with camps in the area were never offered the opportunity to buy their lots. Quimby bought 120,000 acres of leased land in one single action, denying any leaseholder in the area access to properties they had built camps, or had property on.

Great news for the seller of the land, because they didn't have the expense of surveying lot for lot. Bad news to the individual lot leasers.

A national park with no motorized access isn't going to draw the same amount of people and revenue as snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, and logging will. Once again, this is a case of the "Two Maines". The more populous southern half of the state dictating what will happen to the northern half.

Bob Berry's picture

North Woods is private land and a working forrest

If someone wants to buy up huge chunks of property and turn it into a sanctuary, that's their business. They can throw up a gate if they want. It doesn't make them a good neighbor, but it's their right on their land. But we shouldn't be spending tax dollars to work, maintain, and publicly own land. Let the land remain private, worked and maintained by private owners, and let them pay taxes. Besides, I've been to the North Woods many times, and I think they're doing pretty good on their own.


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