By Lucas St. Clair, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
With President Barack Obama’s proclamation, Maine is now home to our country’s newest national monument.
While I know that the journey to this point has, at times, been contentious, all of us who care about the Katahdin region can work together to make it the premier tourist destination in the interior of Maine.
With increased tourism, permanently protected traditional uses and four beautiful seasons, the economic opportunities will grow. It’s our job to capitalize on them with an approach built on Maine-values and focus on creating new jobs.
The evidence from around the country is clear: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will bring new energy and new people to the region as folks recognize the amazing quality of life that’s available.
On the first day, the National Park Service was on the ground and working. There are park offices in Millinocket and Patten, and a superintendent and deputy superintendent are on the job.
The idea for a national monument grew out of hundreds — maybe thousands — of conversations, one cup of coffee and one campfire at a time. The National Park Service will continue those conversations.
In the coming weeks, the National Park Service will begin working on the management plan for the national monument with a series of listening sessions that will ensure that local voices are heard and included in the process of making the park a success.
Over many years, the idea has changed and gotten better. Supporters and opponents alike influenced this proposal and helped to refine it into something that is uniquely Maine.
Outdoor recreation is part of the heritage and the culture of our state. And we’ve made sure that the activities that we all care about will be permanently protected.
With the creation of this monument, snowmobile trails east of the East Branch will be guaranteed forever, along with hunting on those lands where it’s currently allowed.
We have talked a lot about the economic benefits of a national monument — and those are real and important. And I know snowmobiling and hunting are critical to the economy in northern Maine.
But they’re more than that. They also are part of the fabric of the communities and the family traditions of the people who live in the Katahdin region. And I promise that they will be protected.
In addition to contributing the land, our foundation will create a $40 million endowment that is already contributing to the maintenance and operations. The endowment is part of the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.
And, practically speaking, that endowment means that National Park Service employees are already on the job.
Already, the national monument has a superintendent, and his staff are hard at work getting the area ready for new visitors. Offices have been opened in Patten and Millinocket. National Park Service flyers have been printed, and there’s a real buzz from people who want to explore our country’s newest national park unit.
Conservation is important to me — and it’s the mission of the foundation that donated the land to create Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
But we also are committed to making an investment in the Katahdin region that will create jobs and will help to spark economic revitalization in communities that are having a hard time.
A new national monument isn’t a silver bullet — no one thing is. But a major recreational attraction in the interior of northern Maine can be part of a new economic foundation that will create opportunities for new businesses to start and existing businesses to grow.
The lands of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument helped to launch America’s conservation movement: They inspired Teddy Roosevelt, Percival Baxter and Henry David Thoreau.
Crossing the East Branch of the Penobscot River, the beauty of this landscape and the massive expanse of uninterrupted forest convinced Baxter to forever protect Mount Katahdin.
The land is spectacular, from the silver maple floodplains on the East Branch to the wild and remote Wassataquoik to the top of Deazy Mountain, where it feels like you can see the whole world unfold under your feet. Today, we are so excited that thousands more will be inspired by this amazing place that we are proud to be part of Maine.
Our family would like to thank President Obama and the members of his administration for their hard work to safeguard America’s natural treasures and for their efforts to prepare the National Park Service for its next 100 years of success. This designation is a fitting tribute to the “Centennial of America’s Greatest Idea.”
There’s amazing beauty in the Katahdin region and a history that we are proud to help preserve. This land will take your breath away.
Today, thanks in large part to the many, many people in the Katahdin region who have worked tirelessly to advocate for the national monument, it is protected forever.
Lucas St. Clair is the president of Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the nonprofit foundation that donated more than 87,500 acres to the American people to help create the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.