On the eve of the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, Wednesday President Obama designated the newest national park unit: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. At 87,500 acres, the new monument is now the largest National Monument east of the Mississippi.
The land was donated by philanthropist and Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby’s foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., along with a $40 million private endowment to support the monument in years to come. The new monument is located in north-central Maine and is known for its remarkable wildlife habitat, including for species like Canada lynx, black bears, moose, and snowshoe hare. The designation also permanently protects access to outdoor recreation activities and is expected to become a major draw for outdoor recreation and the economy it brings with it.
“The new national monument — which will be managed by the National Park Service — will protect approximately 87,500 acres, including the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of the Maine Woods that is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski,” according to a White House fact sheet. The fact sheet went on to say:
In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region. The protected area — together with the neighboring Baxter State Park to the west — will ensure that this large landscape remains intact, bolstering the forest’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.
President Obama designated this newest national monument the day before the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson created the service and in the same year declared Sieur de Monts a National Monument — now known as Acadia National Park.
— Sally Jewell (@SecretaryJewell) August 24, 2016
Several monument supporters, including the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, hope that this monument designation is a stop-gap on the way to it becoming a national park — something that can only be accomplished through an act of Congress. Congressional re-designation is not entirely uncommon; some of America’s most loved and iconic national parks, including Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Zion, and Maine’s own Acadia National Park were first protected as national monuments.
“This is an exciting and historic day for Maine. The creation of a new national monument will bring economic development to the area and benefit all of Maine,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)in a statement supporting the recent designation. “It will bring millions of visitors to this beautiful and special part of our state, and at the same time preserve traditional uses like hunting and snowmobiling.”
Congressional anti-park caucus leader Rep. Rob Bishop said the monument advances “powerful elite special interests over Maine’s economy and citizens,” in a statement Wednesday. In June, Bishop traveled to Maine to hold a hearing criticizing the donation and possible designation through the Antiquities Act — a law which 16 presidents of both parties have used to permanently protect public lands and historic sites. Many criticized Bishop for using the remote hearing to push his political agenda in a state 2,000 miles away from his own.
In reality, the monument has gained a lot of local support in the region, with polling showing that 60 percent of residents support the designation. Also 200 Maine businesses signed a letter endorsing protection of the area, as did the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We applaud President Obama for acting to safeguard this wild place and our traditional uses of it as a national monument,” said Jim Frick, volunteer co-leader of the Sierra Club’s Maine Woods team in a statement. “This monument comes with great economic, recreational, and environmental benefits for Mainers, and a rich variety of outdoor recreation opportunities for visitors.”
In addition to the designation of a new national monument, the Obama Administration and the Park Service are celebrating the centennial by offering free admission to all national park units August 25th-28th and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is touring national parks across the country throughout the week.