Sally Jewell experiences ‘the bounty of the Maine woods’ as part of the park service’s 100th year.
By Leslie Bridgers, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
TOWNSHIP 5, RANGE 8 — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell arrived by canoe at Haskell Deadwater on Saturday afternoon escorted by two guides on stand-up paddleboards.
When she and her flock of five canoes reached the shore, Jewell hopped out and hauled her boat out of the water.
That’s how Sally Jewell rolls – and paddles and hikes and climbs.
“She practices what she preaches,” said Lucas St. Clair, the son of Roxanne Quimby, who donated the more than 87,000 acres of land that became the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday.
Jewell and St. Clair shared a canoe on the 8-mile paddle down the East Branch of the Penobscot River from Matagamon, just north of the monument’s border, to Haskell Deadwater – a wider and calmer section of the river – where they got out to have a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and chips before taking a hike through the woods. Their picnic area was once the site of a privately owned hunting camp that was removed after Quimby bought the land.
Jewell, 60, will speak Sunday at a ceremony in Millinocket for the newly designated monument – her last stop after a weeklong tour celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service that included visits to New York City, Arkansas, the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California and Yellowstone National Park.
The trip to Maine was tacked on when it became apparent that President Obama planned to sign off on the national monument. Because Jewell likes having been to a place before she speaks about it, she flew to Bangor on Friday night and drove up to Patten on Saturday morning.
AN EXPERT MOUNTAINEER
A petroleum engineer by trade, Jewell worked for Mobil Oil Corp., then became a commercial banker before joining Seattle-based Recreation Equipment Inc., better known as REI, in her home state. She had served as the company’s chief executive officer for eight years when she was appointed to Obama’s Cabinet in 2013. As interior secretary, Jewell oversees the National Park Service and eight other agencies.
Jewell is also an expert mountaineer and has scaled Mount Rainier seven times.
The canoe trip Saturday wasn’t the first time she and St. Clair had spent time together outdoors. Since she took office, they’ve been to the North Cascades National Park in Washington and to Vicksburg, Mississippi.
On Saturday night, she and her staff planned to camp out with St. Clair and his family by the monument’s Lunksoos Mountain.
But first, they paddled the Penobscot, with her in the front of the canoe and him in the back. The water was flowing faster than it had all summer, allowing her to put down her paddle and interview St. Clair with a GoPro camera. She asked him about what the area is like in different seasons and how it was growing up in Maine. She asked about the campsites they saw along the way and the process of getting the land to where it is today.
They paddled through mild rapids and over Stair Falls, passing by beaver dams and blue herons along the way with the mountains of Baxter State Park as the backdrop.
“Your perspective from the water is so peaceful – spiritual, really,” she said after they pulled the canoe up the shore and tipped it over, dumping out water. “It’s lovely.”
‘FOREVER GIFT TO ALL AMERICANS’
After lunch, they hiked a mile-and-a-half through woods, Jewell and St. Clair each in a rut on either side of the overgrown logging roads that make up much of the monument’s trail system.
With mosses, branches and pine needles underfoot, wild mushrooms growing on the edge of the trail and tiny frogs hopping across it, the density of the forest thickened and thinned, sometimes letting in rays of sunlight or views of the river, whose sound, like static, was always in the background.
Jewell and St. Clair chatted about moose and the Maine work ethic, but mostly about how to make this place something that everyone can appreciate.
Jewell said the National Park Service wants to know where local residents would like to see the visitor center go, where they’d like to have more access and what they don’t want to see change. But she also wants them to know that the wild aspects of the land will be protected – in a way that couldn’t be guaranteed otherwise – and bringing attention to that should change things for the better.
“Business will increase, opportunities will increase,” she said. “I think people will say, ‘Show me.’ “
The hike came to halt at the Grand Pitch Lean-to, one of four shelters built on the site. Jewell picked up a notebook from a ledge in the lean-to and began reading log entries aloud. One was from a group of campers and counselors. Another was from a hiker on the way from Quebec to Key West.
Then Jewell picked up the pen and started writing. As the rest of the group chatted by a picnic table, she kept writing and writing. When she put down the pen, someone asked her what she had written, so she picked the notebook back up.
“Here with Lucas St. Clair and friends celebrating the U.S.’s newest national monument,” she read aloud.
She talked about the paddle with its vistas and wildlife and the weather, though she said she’d like to come back in other seasons.
“Thank you Roxanne Quimby and family for this amazing, forever gift to all Americans and the generations to come,” she said, choking up as she continued speaking. “Now all will have an opportunity to experience the beauty and the bounty of the Maine woods.”
The group left the lean-to and took a turn around the corner, where suddenly a massive wall of whitewater, gushing and churning, appeared. The eyes and mouths of her staffers widened as each came upon the sight, but Jewell just looked on with a smile.
“This is a real thing,” she said. “Amazing.”