Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wilderness Balance

Lucas St. Clair, the son of Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, poses on land proposed for a national park in Penobscot County, Maine, Aug. 4, 2015. President Obama on Wednesday declared a new national monument in Maine on 87,000 acres donated by Ms. Quimby.

When we lived in Sudbury I was a member of Friends of Killarney, a group which supported the goals and aims of the provincial park by that name an hour away. Sometimes a sub-group had meetings in my study at downtown St. Andrew's United Church. We were involved in developing a canoe guide and eventually with a presentation to a provincial environmental consultation called Lands for Life. We were given ten minutes before a travelling panel which considered presentations on the use of Crown Land across the North. I was given the job of cramming our request for a buffer zone around the park which is the smallest and southernmost of wilderness parks in Ontario at just over 100,000 acres. I managed to stay within the ten minutes and our request was ultimately granted, although we waited a while for the outcome. I was the frontman but it was definitely a collaborative effort.


I thought about this when I heard last week that President Obama has created a new national park in Maine to correspond with the one hundred anniversary of national parks in America.

Approximately 87,500 acres of land in Maine's North Woods will be protected under the new designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The land was donated to the government on Tuesday by Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt's Bees, and officially made a national monument Wednesday after a years-long push full of obstacles and controversy.

Even though Quimby owned the land and it is a generous gift, there are some who have resisted because of the timber value of this land the jobs it could create. Others feel that it is another example of rich folk imposing their will on those  who have been there for generations, hunting and fishing. Still others -- Republicans -- are grumpy that Obama just went ahead and did this without the wider approval they wouldn't have granted anyway.

Some of these same issues existed for Killarney when it was established more than fifty years ago. Locals resented the expropriation and restrictions which go with the creation of a park. And the area is now jam-packed with campers from elsewhere all through the summer. Sure, the outfitters and the fish and chip place in the village of Killarney do booming business, but people often feel disenfranchised. We loved Killarney, hiking, paddling, and interior camping there,  but rarely visited in the summer when "our" park was far too busy. We were there recently as Ruth paddled with women friends and I walked a couple of trails. It made me homesick.   

The balance between protecting wilderness places and respecting those who have lived there over time, including aboriginal peoples is not easy to establish. There is a new park adjacent to Killarney called Point Grondine which has been established by the Wekwimikong First Nation. One day we'll explore this new opportunity.

Any thoughts about this challenging balance? What about our activism as Christians for the protection of wilderness places?

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