Clemson associate professor closes book on doctoral research involving Maine’s north woods after 15 years
When news that President Barack Obama had named Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument as the newest national park site in late August, Elizabeth “Betty” Baldwin wasn’t surprised. She was happy to put a period at the end of a sentence she started writing 15 years ago. Baldwin began to examine environmental conflict related to Maine’s northern forest as a doctoral student at the University of Maine in 2001.
It would be more than 10 years after she received her Ph.D. before there would be some semblance of resolution to the debate that raged between those for and against a national park in Maine’s northern forest. Baldwin’s research wasn’t concerned with whether or not the areas around Maine’s Baxter State Park should be designated a national park; her research instead examined the conflict between both sides in an effort to expose what those sides valued.
“I thought it might happen this year because it was the end of a presidential term,” Baldwin said. “I lived and breathed both sides of this conflict for five years, so it’s good to see some resolution—any resolution—come from it, especially after I found that both sides were essentially fighting for the same thing from different angles.”
Clemson University was Baldwin’s career destination even before she attained her Ph.D. from the University of Maine. She joined Clemson’s parks, recreation and tourism management department one month before graduation, and even though she now calls Clemson home, she’s spent summers in Maine. She has family there. She even maintained contact with those directly involved with the debate she left behind in the summer of 2006, so developments in the story always made their way to her.
For Maine residents, the conflict has existed for so long it’s as much a part of the atmosphere as oxygen. Those in favor of a national park, such as Burt’s Bees co-founder and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, sought to protect access to the north woods against development. A large portion of those against a national park hoped to keep government involvement at arm’s length and protect the area’s timber industry, but one of their top priorities was also protection for activities such as hunting and fishing.
“It quickly became clear to me that the argument was over the administrative outcome, not what would actually happen to the woods,” Baldwin said. “I went in with bias, but I came out understanding both sides and seeing that if both sides simply had more information, they might have reached a compromise faster.”
Baldwin used qualitative research methods and interviewed over 20 individuals deemed “decision leaders” on both sides of the conflict. She started by talking to people who would force her to doubt her own bias on the conflict so that she could remain objective, a research tool in qualitative methods called reflexivity.
When a vocal proponent of a national park, such as a representative from Restore the North Woods, cautioned her against speaking to a certain individual who was against a national park, Baldwin made a point to find that person and interview them. According to Baldwin, her research was defined by talking to people that others hated in an effort to reveal information that could be separated from the person, and allow for the marketplace of ideas to drive findings and output.
According to Baldwin, Quimby realized she had become a lightning rod in the conflict and decided to remove herself from such an active role in pro-park activism in order to help the conflict cool. Baldwin was on a paddleboat on Moosehead Lake with Quimby and clearly remembers her remarking that after the sale of Burt’s Bees, she would be better off just buying land and hoping she could one day give it away in the name of a national park.
Quimby’s change of approach occurred just before Baldwin published her research findings in the Maine Policy Review, which graced the desks of law makers and legislators in Maine. Shortly thereafter, Baldwin departed for Clemson, where she would watch and wait for 10 years before the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument became a reality. Baldwin now views her research as a document of a national park’s incubation, a period that may never have been examined so thoroughly in any other national park.
“This conflict was not unlike what preceded the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Grand Teton National Park; we just happen to have a better record of it from start to finish,” Baldwin said. “I hoped my research would help to de-escalate things and give people perspective, and maybe it helped in that regard.”