By David Sharp news writer
President Barack Obama on Wednesday created a new national monument in northern Maine on 87,000 acres donated by the founder of Burt’s Bees, fulfilling conservationist Roxanne Quimby’s goal of gifting the land during the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
The Katahdin Woods and Waters monument adjacent to Baxter State Park includes the East Branch of the Penobscot River and stunning views of Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin. The land is cherished by Native Americans, and its history includes visits by naturalist Henry David Thoreau and President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Through this incredibly generous private gift for conservation, these lands will remain accessible to current and future generations of Americans, ensuring the rich history of Mainers’ hunting, fishing and recreation heritage will forever be preserved,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
Supporters say the move will create hundreds of jobs in a region hurt by the closing of paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket. But critics fear that property maintained by the National Park Service would hinder efforts to rebuild a forest-based economy.
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin last fall wrote a letter to Obama outlining “serious reservations” about the proposal.
King’s position evolved, however, and he said Wednesday that the federal designation “will provide much-needed diversity to the region’s economy.”
This spring, Maine’s legislature passed a symbolic bill saying the legislature didn’t consent to the federal government acquiring the land. And Republican Gov. Paul LePage opposed the proposal, calling it an “ego play” that was supported by “out-of-state liberals.”
Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, who’s marshaled the effort, brushed aside such criticism on Wednesday.
“Many parks over the history of the park system have been criticized upon creation. Gov. LePage is not the first governor to oppose the creation of a new park. But when we look to the future, we see huge amounts of success,” St. Clair told The Associated Press.
The deeds allow snowmobiling and hunting on the land but prohibit hunting of bears with bait or dogs. The deeds also allow the creation of recreational trail corridors, kiosks and signs on the property.
Quimby began buying the timberland in the 1990s with earnings from the Burt’s Bees line of natural care products. She wanted to see her vision become a reality this year during the centennial anniversary.
Quimby initially aimed for a national park designation, but that would have required an act of Congress. The national monument designation required only an act by the president. Many national parks like Maine’s Acadia National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park started with monument status.
The private donation totals $100 million. Quimby valued the land at $60 million and provided an additional $20 million for an endowment. Another $20 million will be raised within three years.
Obama has utilized his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect more land and water using national monument designations than any other president. He’s now created more than two dozen national monuments during his presidency.
The new national monument becomes the 413th park unit in the national park system.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the centennial and underscore our mission than by adding this extraordinary piece of Maine’s North Woods to the National Park System, and sharing its stories and world class recreation opportunities with the rest of the world,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.