While Republican Paul LePage of Maine defends himself against accusations of racism and conducting unbecoming of a governor, another Mainer has stepped up to make the Pine Tree State — and the rest of New England — proud.
Last week, President Barack Obama named a new national monument in Maine — a gift of 35,000 hectares of land in the northeast part of the state to the government. The extraordinary gift was made by businesswoman Roxanne Quimby of Gouldsboro in honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
The Katahdin Woods and Waters monument includes the East Branch of the Penobscot River. From the land, Maine’s tallest mountain — Katahdin — can be seen.
Henry David Thoreau — who made the “Maine Woods” famous through his publications — wrote extensively about the area. And during his 1879 Maine trip during which he summited Mount Katahdin, Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with the area, which hosts some of the rarest rocks and geology in the world.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was quoted as saying Quimby’s gift would permit the area to “remain accessible to current and future generations of Americans, ensuring the rich history of Maine’s hunting, fishing and recreation heritage will forever be preserved.”
Supporters of the monument say it will create hundreds of jobs in an area affected by the closing of two paper mills. But opponents fear it will hurt efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy in the area.
The land has a value of $60 million. Quimby donated $20 million as well to help care for it, and plans to help raise another $20 million within three years for the effort.
Earlier this year, the Maine Legislature said it opposed federal ownership of the land. And LePage openly opposed the creation of the monument, railing against it and Quimby.
Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, has led the efforts in recent years to create the monument. “Many parks over the history of the park system have been criticized upon creation,” he said, but when we look to the future, we see huge amounts of success.”
The region has significant geographic and environmental importance.
According to the president’s Aug. 24 proclamation, “Of particular scientific significance are the number and quality of small and medium-sized patch ecosystems throughout the area, tending to occur in less-common topography that is often relatively remote or inaccessible. … A nationally significant diversity of high-quality wetlands and wet basins occurs throughout Katahdin Woods and Waters, including smaller streams and brooks, ponds, swamps, bogs and fens. … The expanse of Katahdin Woods and Waters, augmented by its location next to other large conservation properties including Baxter State Park and additional state reservations, supports many wide-ranging wildlife species including ruffed grouse, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, American marten, bobcat, bald eagle, northern goshawk and the federally threatened Canada lynx. Seventy-eight bird species are known to breed in the area, and many more bird species use it. Visitation and study of the area have been limited to date, as compared with other areas like Baxter State Park, and many more species of birds and other wildlife may be present. … Lumberjacks, river drivers, and timber owners have earned their livings here. Artists, authors, scientists, conservationists, recreationists and others have drawn knowledge and inspiration from this landscape.”
Quimby, the former founder of Burt’s Bees, began buying the land in the 1990s. She wanted it to be named a national park, but only Congress can create new parks. The president has the power to create national monuments without the approval of Congress.
According to an editorial in the Portland Press Herald, “We have heard a lot of predictions. Opponents claim that it represents a toe in the door for an ever-expanding federal presence in Maine and a disruption of the already struggling forest-products industry, the region’s primary source of jobs for more than a century.
“Supporters of the monument envision a future in which tens of thousands of visitors will come to the Katahdin region every year to experience woods and wildlife that they can’t find at home. … We think the supporters are right, but now it’s time to put the talking points away. Fighting against the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will do no good for the people who hope to build a new diverse economy in the region. The designation of this monument marks another step in a painful transition away from reliance on a single industry, and changes this big are never easy.”
Maine may be struggling with tense political infighting today, but one woman with a view toward the future has made a contribution to the nation that will outlast us all.