Obama rings in 100 years of NPS with new National Monument

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Amid controversy, executive order creates 87,000 acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

The East Branch of Maine's Penobscot River. // Credit: Sean Murphy

The East Branch of Maine's Penobscot River is part of the nation's newest National Monument. // Credit: Sean Murphy

PRESIDENT OBAMA GAVE THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE A BIG, FAT BIRTHDAY PRESENT YESTERDAY. After years of contentious debate in Maine and across the country, Obama signed an executive order designating an 87,563-acre parcel in one of the last large forested areas east of the Rockies as the nation’s latest National Monument.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which borders Baxter State Park and Maine’s high point in the northern part of the state, is the result of a gift by Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby. Since the President’s declaration, the National Park Service has already mobilized to support their 417th managed unit, declaring it open with a new website and making plans to improve roads and bridges in the monument, as well as open offices later this week in the towns of Millinocket and Patten, making use of an additional $40 million pledged by Quimby to support the new land.

The monument, centered around the East Branch of the Penobscot River, preserves a vast tract of largely unspoiled Maine woods, deep in what was once the center of the local timber and paper industry.

According to a White House fact sheet, the land includes 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.” It goes on to add that, “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.”

“Quimby’s land,” as it’s colloquially referred to, has been the subject of intense debate since the entrepreneur and philanthropist began buying land in the early 2000s with the hope of seeing it turned into a new National Park. A long history of hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and cutting timber on the land has created a large contingent of locals, including the state’s governor, opposed to such a large piece of federal property and the restraints that come with it.

The most intense disagreements have waned since Quimby began making allowances for hunting and snowmobiling (which will be allowed in monument parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot) and since she began arguing for the economic upside of a new National Park.

Acadia National Park has shown incredible benefits, including more than 3,000 jobs in the southern part of the state, and Quimby argues that the same benefits could be even more beneficial in an area where the traditional job source, timber, has been in a steep decline. Supporters hope the popularization of the land will lure greater diversity of jobs to the area.

Obama’s designation is only the first step towards land becoming a fully-fledged National Park, which can only be designated by Congress, but Quimby’s supporters are hopeful there is more to come.

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