COPLIN PLANTATION — Tensions are high in northern Franklin County as hundreds of members of Earth First! assemble this week for an encampment on Basil and Harriet Powers land on the banks of Dead River.
They've already been branded “terrorists” by many locals in Stratton, Harriet Powers said Wednesday. Some even called her a terrorist for inviting them.
“My God, they've been stirred up in town for two weeks, mad because we didn't ask everybody and tell them we were going to have them on our property,” she said.
“We had people spinning up and down the road, and one kid last Sunday yelling at me in the garden, 'Terrorist!' I could have called the cops on him, but I didn't. That's what they've called these people. Everybody in town says they're terrorists.”
Henry Harris of Brooklyn, N.Y., brought his 6-year-old up to camp for the weekend.
“I like it because both of us get to be around people with an attitude that wild places are more important than quarterly profits for the shareholders,” Harris said. “I'm not a radical. ... I'm just working class like the rest of these guys.”
“I'm here because I want to live in a culture where people are less dependent on heavy industry and where people are more concerned about the integrity of the land we live off of than for the profit of shareholders and CEOs,” Liam Burnell of Union said.
Harriet Powers blames police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for riling people up about Earth First!.
“It looks to me like the sheriffs and the cops want to start something, and I guess that the FBI is the one that we found out started everything in town, telling everybody they were terrorists and everything,” she said.
She said she's noticed a greater police presence along Route 16.
Ryan Clarke of Corinth and Maine Earth First! said state police stopped by their welcome station just off the Kennebago Road bridge over the South Branch of the Dead River on Tuesday “out of curiosity.”
Maine State Police Lt. Don Pomelow in Skowhegan acknowledged Wednesday they are aware of the Earth First! gathering. He said he added a couple of troopers to patrol the Stratton/Coplin Plantation area due to “an increase in traffic and concerns from the town.”
Clarke wasn't fazed by it or even rumors that the FBI had agents in the woods checking them out at one point.
He was, however, concerned about debunking rumors about the group and assuring locals they're not in town to cause trouble.
“We want to get our message out and to demystify us,” Clarke said. “We're really just a bunch of normal folks who care about the future of our planet.
“Earth First! is an international movement dedicated to defending our last wild places and also fighting corporate resource extraction where we feel it's being done irresponsibly.
“We advocate for a diversity of tactics. If it's not enough for us to lobby and go through the regulatory route, we will do nonviolent civil disobedience. That means putting our bodies in the way of the destruction,” he said.
Four of them — Clarke included — did that last fall, protesting the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission's approval of Plum Creek's development plan in Bangor. Criminal charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass against all but one protester were dismissed on April 30, which Clarke sees as a success.
During the weeklong Round River Rendezvous, Earth First members plan to network with other community and national activists to share ideas. They may take a trip to Trans Canada's wind farm on Kibby Mountain to show participants what it looks like, Clarke said.
“There's no better teaching tool than having it right in front of you,” Logan Perkins of Earth First! said of the rendezvous, which she likened to a large outdoor conference.
On Saturday, the group will hold a rally on-stage in a big field beside an in-ground campfire ring.
“It's a place for us to inspire each other through words, music and poetry,” Clarke said.
He said the site was chosen to show people what Maine's North Woods look like and what current industrial logging practices are doing to it.
They oppose commercial water extraction and biomass waste burning, but that doesn't mean they're not welcome on the Powers' land.
“We see no reason for them not to be here,” Harriet Powers said. “We protested the damn wind mills here ... so, we're protesters, too.
“These people aren't going out into the woods to start something. They're just in camp to have a good time and share their ideas. We're happy to have them here."