- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A key proponent of a national monument in Maine is challenging Republican Gov. Paul LePage to spend some time on the land before criticizing it.

The governor said Monday the donated land was “cut over” and it’ll take decades for the forests to recover. He also announced he plans to testify against the monument at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing next week.

“To have someone who’s never been there say it’s a bunch of cut-over scrubland is doing a disservice to the landscape and the people who live there,” Lucas St. Clair responded Tuesday.

St. Clair called the 87,500 acres of donated forestland “an amazingly beautiful place” even though the governor called the monument’s creation a “horrible decision.” A spokesman for the governor could not be reached Tuesday to confirm whether the governor has never visited the property.

Democratic former President Barack Obama gave the land monument status, putting it under control of the National Park Service. The land is generally off limits to timber harvesting, mining and pipelines, and commercial development.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is expected to announce a review of all monument designations by Obama and President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.

Despite LePage’s complaints and Trump’s review, it’s unclear if the president can do anything about the national monument designations: The Antiquities Act of 1906 doesn’t give the president power to undo a monument designation, and no president has ever taken such a step.

The National Parks Conservation Association has vowed to sue if the Trump administration tries to remove the special designations.

St. Clair, who led the monument push on behalf of his mother, Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who acquired the land, said there’s strong local support for the monument, especially now that residents can see the trails and loop road take shape thanks to a $40 million endowment.

A private foundation is creating new trails alongside the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and there already are visitors to the land.

The land occupies a sprawl east of Baxter State Park where naturalist Henry Davis Thoreau rode in a flat-bottomed bateau and where President Theodore Roosevelt hiked Katahdin in moccasins after losing a boot crossing Wassataquoik Stream.

Matt Polstein, owner of New England Outdoor Center, said he’s already maxed out for lodging for the summer because of demand created by the monument. He said he’s nearing a decision on whether he’ll have to expand to meet demand.

“The enthusiasm is infectious. It spreads to our bankers, investors and residents. All of them are more excited and more optimistic than they were a year ago,” he said.

Millinocket Town Council Chairman Michael Madore said local officials are taking a wait-and-see approach as Trump reviews the designation. But for now, he said, town government is embracing the monument as part of its economic future.

“Like it or not, it’s here. We can go ahead and take a defensive stance and say we don’t want it. But that’s kind of cutting your nose off to spite your face. It’s here. We need to embrace it and see what happens,” he said.

But there still are critics who fear federal ownership could stymie economic development in the region.

Eugene Conlogue, a former town manager in Millinocket, said the president shouldn’t have unilateral power to create a monument without approval from local residents or without an appeal process.

“It’s one thing to beat me fair and square. But when the president can act as a dictator in creating a national monument, then there’s something wrong with that. It’s flawed,” Conlogue said.

“The people should’ve been listened to, but money talks,” he added.

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