- Associated Press - Friday, February 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A letter from the National Park Service director to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has done little to allay concerns that President Barack Obama’s administration could create a national monument on privately owned land east of Baxter State Park.

Jonathan Jarvis, park service director, didn’t address the president’s intentions in his letter this month to the lawmakers, who urged the president in November to reconsider designating the land as a monument.

In the letter, Jarvis thanked the lawmakers for sharing their concerns but didn’t divulge whether the Obama administration supported the idea or intended to move forward.

Collins, King and Poliquin said they were disappointed that Jarvis didn’t address any of their specific conditions. Those include stipulations for “traditional” recreational uses including hunting and snowmobiling and for recognizing established easements.

The land is owned by a foundation created by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, which wants to donate the land to the park service.

Quimby’s proposal calls for donating land valued at $60 million and providing $40 million more - $20 million from her foundation, $20 million from private donors - to fund park operations. She also envisions providing a similar-sized parcel for hunting, snowmobiling and other recreational opportunities.

All told, the park and recreational area would be capped at 150,000 acres.

Creation of a national park requires approval from Congress, but the president can act on his own to create a national monument as he did on Friday in granting national monument status to nearly 1.8 million acres of scenic Southern California desert.

Such action sometimes paves the way for eventual approval of a national park, as was the case with Acadia National Park, which began as Sieur de Monts National Monument.

Poliquin noted that the discussion is taking place at a time when the National Park Service has acknowledged a massive backlog of maintenance - and no plan for catching up.

“It is irresponsible governing to add a national monument to our 408 existing national park service units when we cannot even afford to take care of the one’s we’ve already got,” he said.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the foundation created by Quimby, had a different take on Jarvis’ letter. He said that while Jarvis didn’t divulge where the administration stands on the issue, the park service director did show extensive knowledge of the region and awareness of local concerns.

“Continuing this important conversation is critical as we work to answer questions about the proposal and grow support, both in Maine and in Washington,” he said.

Gov. Paul LePage, who opposes creation of a national monument in Maine, announced Friday that the state Bureau of Parks and Lands was taking steps to re-establish crossing rights to state land that’s surrounded by foundation-owned land.

He criticized what he described as an end-run by “high-paid lobbyists” to thwart the will of residents in the Mount Katahdin area. “Undeterred by the will of the people, Quimby’s effort continues to march forward,” the governor said.

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