The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is reality. After decades of planning — and rancor — 87,500 acres near Patten are permanently protected and part of the National Park Service inventory with the president’s signature on an executive order Wednesday morning.
“Katahdin Woods and Waters is an exceptional example of the rich and storied Maine Woods, enhanced by its location in a larger protected landscape, and thus would be a valuable addition to the Nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage conserved and enjoyed in the National Park System,” the proclamation says after detailing the historical, scenic and scientific significance of the land, which is east of Baxter State Park..
The monument came to fruition thanks to the persistence and generosity of Roxanne Quimby, her son Lucas St. Clair and their foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., which has donated the land and will donate $40 million for an endowment to the park service. They deserve our appreciation for this gift.
A national park in Maine was first officially proposed in June 1994 by RESTORE: The North Woods, a Massachusetts-based group. It’s proposal, which called for a 3.2 million park, was mocked and opposed by the state’s forest products industry.
Quimby, a former member of RESTORE’s board of directors, spent more than a decade buying and trading parcels of Maine land that she hoped to donate to the federal government for a national park. By 2011, she owned 100,000 acres in the state.
The park proposal shrunk from the unworkable 3.2 million acres to a more reasonable 87,500 acres as St. Clair met with hundreds of people to sell the plan — and modify it based on concerns and suggestions he heard. The plan for a park, which would require congressional action, became a push for a national monument, which the president can authorize under the Antiquities Act.
The most recent poll found that more than two-thirds of residents in Maine’s rural 2nd Congressional District supported the park plan, even as voters in East Millinocket, Medway and Patten cast ballots against it. The Maine Legislature passed an unenforceable ban on a national monument this spring, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin shared “ serious reservations” about a potential monument designation.
Criticism of the president’s unilateral action — which is how many national parks, including iconic Acadia, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon were created — is expected to continue. But criticism doesn’t create jobs or bring new dollars to the Katahdin region. The monument will. And, history has shown, opposition to a monument designation will fade as the conserved land brings new visitors, jobs and residents to the area.
With the president’s executive order, a day before the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, the real work begins. A superintendent is already on the job. A brochure for the monument is ready for circulation. National Park Service staff will hold a series of public listening sessions throughout the Katahdin region starting the week of Sept. 12.
The national monument designation won’t bring immediate prosperity to a region hit hard by mill closures and a shrinking forest products industry. But it does offer an opportunity to remake the region as it showcases its natural treasures to a national and international audience.
“In a hundred years, we will look back to this week as a watershed moment in the history of northern Maine,” Patten Town Manager Raymond Foss said Tuesday when it was confirmed that the EPI land had been transferred to the U.S. government. “Now that it’s happened, we need to move forward with this reality.”
We don’t believe it will take 100 years to realize the value of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. We thank the president for seeing the beauty, historical significance and promise of the nation’s newest monument and we thank the Quimby family for their generosity.