National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis is heading back to central Maine this month to gather input from locals about potentially establishing a national monument, a move that supporters view as a significant advancement for their effort to eventually establish a national park in the region.
The visit, scheduled for May 16, comes after years of public and private advocacy by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby and her son, Lucas St. Clair, who own more than 87,000 acres of land that they hope will one day become the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park.
In addition to hosting a website promoting the concept of donating their land to the federal government, the personal care products millionaires have met behind closed doors with Jarvis and other top Obama administration officials at least a half-dozen times in the past year and a half, according to the director’s schedule, which was obtained by Greenwire via a Freedom of Information Act request.
After 15 years of advocacy failed to attract significant congressional support for the national park plan, the family last year began pushing for a national monument designation — which the president can make without lawmakers’ consent — as an interim step (Greenwire, Dec. 1, 2015).
St. Clair downplayed the significance of the recent string of meetings, including an hourlong discussion on Feb. 24 with Jarvis, White House Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff.
"Jon is on the board of the National Park Foundation, and my mother is on that board, so I’ve spent a lot of time with him just socially and so we know one another," St. Clair said in an interview. "When we meet with Jon, when I’ve met with Jon, it’s been about what needs to happen next. It’s really me asking him questions about how these things happen and just more of an information gathering."
The talks with top administration officials were similarly informative in nature, according to the Burt’s Bees heir.
"They’ve been really helpful in gathering input and explaining some of the political process," he said. "They’ve been very much like, you need to get local support, you need to get support from your congressional delegation, [and] you need to show that support."
St. Clair added, "I’ve never worked on a national monument before, so I’ve been in real information-gathering [mode] over the last several years trying to learn about who to speak with and how to get this done."
Jarvis also appears to have visited Capitol Hill to talk about the Katahdin monument plan. His schedule for Dec. 9, 2015, shows a one-hour meeting in the office of Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) "RE: discussion w/Lucas St. Clair."
Poliquin, a freshman who represents the vast northern and central regions of Maine, has expressed reservations about the national park proposal and strongly objects to a monument designation (Greenwire, March 22). Poliquin is a top target of Democrats and the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund this election cycle.
Although Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has also raised concerns about a potential monument, he has been more willing to work with the administration. He encouraged Jarvis to visit the region for a third time in a March letter. And when the director returns a week from Monday, King will be moderating a public meeting and a closed-door session with Jarvis and regional elected officials.
Jarvis first visited the area in 2011 with then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to attend a public meeting in a hard-hit timber community near where the monument would be. Three years later, he returned to evaluate the potential of the land to draw new visitors to the area.
St. Clair expects the latest meetings will build support for the monument within the administration and Congress.
"It’s really encouraging to see both the director and the senator engaging on this project together and really gauging where the support is," he said, noting that polling his foundation has done shows growing local acceptance of the plan. "It’s a great step forward."