PORTLAND – Activists pushing for the creation of a 3.2-million-acre Maine Woods National Park have formed a 110-member advisory committee that includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Holly Hunter, Laura Linney, Robert Redford, Ted Danson, Christopher Reeve, Meryl Streep and Sam Waterston are among the celebrities on the list of committee members provided by Restore: The North Woods.

The nonprofit organization, which launched the campaign for the park nearly a decade ago, is looking to the new committee – and its star power – to help raise the visibility of the endeavor.

The panel is attempting to generate support in Congress for a park that would extend westward from Millinocket to the Quebec border, encompassing an area larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks combined.

The North Woods charted by Henry David Thoreau more than 150 years ago is the nation’s largest wildland east of the Rockies: a vast spruce-fir and hardwood forest that is home to hundreds of sparkling lakes and ponds, rugged mountains and abundant wildlife that includes moose and bald eagles as well as spawning grounds for endangered Atlantic salmon.

As a first step toward protecting “this national jewel” for future generations, the new committee, Americans for a Maine Woods National Park, is pushing for a feasibility study that would assess the park’s economic and environmental impacts.

In addition to film stars, the committee includes famous Americans in a broad range of other fields, including conservation, science, business, education, media, public policy, law and philanthropy.

Journalist Walter Cronkite, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, model Lauren Hutton, cartoonist Edward Koren, basketball star Cindy Blodgett and singers Harry Belafonte, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Renee Fleming and Don Henley are among those on the committee.

Writers backing the park include Bill McKibben, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron and Edward O. Wilson.

Environmentalists, ranging from chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, are well-represented on the advisory panel. Among others are Stewart Udall, the former secretary of the Interior who helped create four national parks, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., noted for his cleanup work along the Hudson River.

The committee is patterned after a panel of distinguished Americans that helped lay the groundwork for the establishment of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980.

Restore said the committee promoting the Maine park has been in the planning stage for nearly four years. Its members will take on a range of functions.

Some only plan to permit use of their names in order to lend credibility and visibility to the effort. More active participants may open doors to foundations and corporations, sponsor fundraising events, contact legislators, write letters of support, advise on media coverage or even testify before Congress.

Political activist Mary Adams of Garland, an outspoken opponent of a national park in Maine, said she was not surprised to see celebrities line up to support the project.

“The beautiful people embrace this idea because they don’t have the foggiest notion about life here. They think they live in an imaginary world in Hollywood, so it’s pretty easy to sell them on the idea of fairyland woods park for the nation,” Adams said.

“The closer you get to where the park would be, the more you’ll find that the people hate it,” she said, maintaining that curbs on logging and restraints on development would lead to economic ruin.

The advisory committee is co-chaired by entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, who has been aiding the project by using profits from her natural cosmetics business to buy land in the area earmarked for the park. In recent years, her purchases have totaled more than 15,000 acres.

The other co-chair, University of Maine Professor Will LaPage, said the committee is unlikely to hold meetings. Instead, members will assist in steps aimed at building support for the park concept.

Christopher Reeve was the first person invited to serve on the committee, said Mimi McConnell, special projects director for Restore. “He flew over the park before his tragic accident and was known to favor it,” she said.

Some of the others on the committee were enlisted through referrals. “Ed Harris suggested Jeff Bridges and Holly Hunter and he also approached Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins,” McConnell said.

She said park advocates plan to accompany some of the committee members into Maine’s North Woods this summer and fall to give them a first-hand look at the lands they hope to see protected for future generations.

The announcement of the new committee coincides with a two-page ad by Restore in the National Parks magazine distributed to members of Congress.

Winning congressional support for the park – and even for a feasibility study – may prove difficult when Maine’s congressional delegation is cool to the idea and the governor and Legislature have gone on record in opposition.

LaPage, a former director of state parks in New Hampshire, said the continuing decline in the paper industry and the overall economic downturn across northern Maine creates a pressing need to consider the potential economic benefits of a national park.

“The first step is to get a feasibility study,” he said.

AP-ES-05-04-03 1316EDT



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