Friday, July 12, 2013

The Great North Woods Park: a guest blog by Paul Doiron

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMINGPaul Doiron is one of my favorite writers. Not just for his terrific Mike Bowditch series - although I love following the Maine game warden as he struggles and grows into his role as a hero. Not just because he's a great dinner companion and stalwart tourer - ask him about our "Death to Bookstores" appearances in '10 - but because he cares passionately about Maine. From the bucolic coastal villages to the dying mill towns, from the metropolitan south to the almost-uninhabited north, he writes - in both his fiction and his nonfiction - wisely and well about the state we love.

  Who hates national parks? No one, right? According to the National Park Service, 278,939,216 people visited the United States’s crown jewels in 2011. My own state of Maine is home to one of the most popular in the East—Acadia National Park—which generally receives more than 2 million recreational visits a year. So it might surprise you to learn that one of the most controversial issues in Maine right now is whether to create a new national park in the state’s celebrated North Woods as a potential sanctuary for caribou, wolves, and lynx.
For more than a decade environmentalists, joined by entrepreneur and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, famous as the founder of Burt’s Bees*, has been lobbying to create a new park in the vicinity of majestic Mount Katahdin—and their efforts have been met with fear, resentment, and in some cases, violence. Quimby has gone so far as to buy 70,000 acres herself to give to the National Park Service, but state politicos — and the feds, at the behest of local politicians — have so far given her the cold shoulder.
The fear in Maine is that the park would signal the death knell of the state’s wood-products industry (what most people call “logging”). And Quimby hasn’t helped matters by halting lumbering on her lands and banning access to hunters, snowmobilers, and ATV riders who had previously used it for years. Novelists know that a crisis is very often the truest expression of someone’s character. That statement can be as true of place like Maine as it is for a person.
A crisis can also be the precursor to murder, of course. That’s why I decided to focus my new novel, Massacre Pond — the fourth in my Mike Bowditch series — around the creation of a fictional Moosehorn National Park. My protagonist is no Anna Pigeon; he’s a young Maine game warden who starts the book unsold on either the virtues of the park concept (he likes to hunt and fish, after all) or the virtues of the wealthy woman promoting the radical idea. But when a seemingly senseless moose massacre occurs on her property he finds himself dragged into the debate—which escalates very quickly to human murder, as well.
These days we’ve become used to books and television shows being “ripped from the headlines,” but from the days of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, fiction has also been a useful tool to start a public debate. And that’s what I aim to do. “Sensational” and “serious” aren’t always antonyms.
I used to have misgivings about a North Woods National Park, primarily out of a respect for the small Maine communities that would be most affected by its creation. (Some sort of preserve modeled on Adirondack Park was always my preference.) When asked about Massacre Pond, I’ve said that I had to write an entire novel to get my own conflicted views on the subject on paper.
One irony to the present situation is that it was Henry David Thoreau himself — the popularizer of Mount Katahdin (and the effective creator of Maine’s tourism industry) — who was the state’s first advocate for a Maine woods national park. He wrote:
“The kings of England formerly had their forests ‘to hold the king’s game,’ for sport or food, sometimes destroying villages to create or extend them . . . Why should not we, who have renounced the king’s authority, have our national preserves, where no villages need be destroyed, in which the bear and panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be ‘civilized off the face of the earth,’ — our forests, not to hold the king’s game merely, but to hold and preserve the king himself also, the lord of creation,—not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true recreation?”
How this crisis will all play out is unanswerable by my Magic 8 Ball. The political winds aren’t currently in favor of the park, but we know how quickly those can change. And the fate of the American woods-products industry depends less on what happens in the Maine capital of Augusta — or even Washington, DC — and more on what’s going on in South Africa and the Amazon and Indonesia.
One of my newest concerns is this: By the time Mainers finally decide whether they want a North Woods park, will global climate change have already transformed our beautiful boreal forest into someplace subtropical? Instead of the Canada lynx will we have the feral pig, and instead of the sugar maple, will we have the pecan?
I call this dystopian vision of the future: “No Country for Old Moose.”
*By the way, did you know that Taiwain has a national holiday devoted to Burt Shavitz, the namesake of Burt’s Bees. Yep, they do.

The fourth Mike Bowditch mystery, Massacre Pond, comes out on July 16th. You can find out more about Paul and read excerpts of his novels at his website. You can read more of his thoughts at his blog, friend him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter as @PaulDoiron. Paul is also a contributor to the Maine Crime Writers blog. 


  1. Who would have thought that the creation of a national park/animal sanctuary could be so contentious? It will be interesting to see how this particular crisis is resolved . . . .
    I have enjoyed your Mike Bowditch series and I’m looking forward to reading “Massacre Pond” . . . .

  2. Greetings from Sugarloaf!

    Yes, the great National Park debate. Right up there with the East-West highway on the list of local contentious items. But then there's always bear baiting.

    I, too, am looking forward to reading MASSACRE POND.

    There are so many great Maine authors. I'm hoping to get to Boothbay tomorrow. It sounds like a wicked awesome event.

    Thanks for being part of JRW today.

  3. I'm so keen to read Massacre Pond, Paul.

    The tension that pervades the North Woods National Park debate makes fertile soil for a good story, and I know from your earlier books you can be trusted you to capture the nuance.

    Congratulations and thank you for taking this on.

  4. Hi, Paul! So great to see you at Jungle Reds today!

    We had a similar debate that raged for decades and decades around the creation of a tallgrass prairie national park in Kansas. Here it was the ranchers and grazing rights that were the problems. Finally, we have the park--after losing lots of the prairie we had when we first started talking about it. Hope that doesn't happen to you all up in Maine.

    I love the Mike Bowditch books and can't wait to get my hands on Massacre Pond.

  5. LOVE that title, great to see you here today!

    Well, talk about political battles--did you see the some Haight Ashbury residnets are trying to close a restaurant called Bacon Bacon--because they can't stand the smell?

    And of course I lived through the Big Dig debate here in Boston..which actully turned out tobe kind of fabulous. After some very very rough times.

  6. Let's hear it for Teddy Roosevelt! Today it would be impossible to set aside even a fraction of the 230 million acres he safeguarded.

    Welcome, Paul - and congratulations on the huge success of Bad Little Falls. Hoping that Massacre Pond hits it out of the park for you too.

  7. The North Woods National Park is a controversial idea with convincing arguments on either side. I'm looking forward to reading Paul's new book to see how this issue plays into it. I loved the previous books in the Mike Bowditch series. The Maine settings and characters feel authentic, and I have enjoyed seeing Mike's character develop.

  8. Welcome Paul and thanks for your post. Your books are now on my TBR list!

    Setting aside land for new parks is a contentious issue everywhere. I'm interested in your take on both sides in Massacre Pond.

  9. Love your comment that it took you a whole book to get your own conflicting thoughts on paper! Here in NW Montana, we have many of the same debates. But who doesn't love moose? Or even mousse?

    Good luck with the new release!

  10. Thank you for highlighting this controversy. The I learn about Maine, the more fascinated I become. (Admittedly, Stephen King had a lot to do with my Maine curiosity.)

    I love the title too! Looking forward to reading MASSACRE POND.

  11. I hope some of you click on the "North Woods Law" trailer at the end of Paul's piece. I had NO idea there was a reality show about Maine game wardens! The young man in the clip is very much how I picture Mike Bowditch.

  12. Love these kind of novels!

    But in this crisis also resides opportunity. Some of these small Maine communities could see new job creation to support visitors to the new National Park. Hope they are thinking of that.

  13. Thank you, everyone, for the kind words and encouragement. In the book I have a character — sort of a Basil Exposition character, I'm afraid — who explains how one goes about creating a national park. I just found the political process really fascinating. And I aimed to come at the particular controversy in Maine from a variety of angles. It's a novel, after all, not an essay. So I expect some readers to think I'm violently opposed and others to think I'm violently for it. As for "North Woods Law," it really is a hoot and I've gotten to be friends with both some of the featured wardens and with the producers. It's quirky and a real notch above traditional COPS type shows.

  14. North Woods Law made me fall in love with moose. Hello, I am Annette and I think big clunky animals are beautiful. I can see both sides of the debate. Jobs in America are a big deal where ever you live. And since I live in Texas, I do not have a dog in this fight. But for me, preserving some more of the beauty of Maine seems like a great plan. I will have to find this book, Massacre Pond and read to see which side is really your choice.

  15. Very interesting blog, and I am definitely adding Massacre Pond to my to-read list!

  16. Hi Paul,

    Glad to see you here today. I hope the national Park works out for you in Maine. As Hank says we lived through the Big Dig, and it worked out great! Well there are those leaks… but the green area, the park on the waterfront… so very nice.

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