By Nick Sambides Jr., Staff Writer
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama signed into law the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday, a day after landowner Roxanne Quimby transferred 87,563 acres of her property in Maine to the federal government.
The executive order states that the Department of the Interior will manage the property through the National Park Service, in line with Quimby’s stated requirements. It allows “hunting by the public on the parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River” plus snowmobiling and orders that a management plan be created, “with full public involvement,” in three years. Public meetings are due to start by Sept. 12.
It praises the Quimby lands as being rich in culture, natural beauty and “significant biodiversity.” Describing the view the land affords as awe-inspiring, the order recites a history familiar to most Mainers including the visits of Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt and John James Audubon of Audubon Society fame.
“Since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago, these waterways and associated resources — the scenery, geology, flora and fauna, night skies, and more — have attracted people to this area,” the nine-page executive order states. “Native Americans still cherish these resources. 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.”
The executive order also cites as one of the land’s greatest features something monument opponents will find ironic: Its proximity to Baxter State Park and view of Mount Katahdin. Monument foes derided the land as being essentially valueless by itself without that viewshed.
“This post-glacial topography is studded with attractive small mountains, including some like Deasey, Lunksoos, and Barnard, that offer spectacular views of Mount Katahdin,” the order states. “Katahdin Woods and Waters abuts much of Baxter State Park’s eastern boundary, extending the conservation landscape through shared mountains, streams, corridors for plants and animals, and other natural systems.”
The announcement of the signing was released by the White House at 10:30 a.m. It is the 25th executive order Obama has issued to create a monument since 2011. The monument is the nation’s 151st since 1906, according to a National Park Service listing. Of the nation’s 58 national parks, 36 began as monuments, including Acadia National Park.
Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents, under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, can create monuments simply by writing an order. Officials running the monument’s neighbor, Baxter State Park, posted a notice on social media on Wednesday morning in anticipation of the decree.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with our new neighbor, the Department of the Interior. Baxter Park has 100 miles of boundary and we share this boundary with around a dozen different landowners,” the statement reads. “We seek to have a good working relationship with all our neighbors and we look forward to doing the same with our newest one.”
Located east of Baxter, the monument is expected to increase employment in the Katahdin region, where two paper mills have shuttered since 2008. The closures represent a direct loss of approximately 430 manufacturing jobs. The last mill, in East Millinocket, closed in 2014.
Quimby’s dream, as she said when she launched her campaign in 2011, was to achieve a kind of parity with Gov. Percival Baxter by donating land to the National Park Service in 2016 — her gift to the nation that helped make her a millionaire. She began buying land in 2001.
The order describes the land as a “$100 million gift” and includes Quimby’s promised $20 million donation “for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development” and a pledge for another $20 million in fundraising.
Penobscot County Registry of Deeds officials confirmed Tuesday the 13 deeds passing 87,563 acres from Quimby’s company, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., to what was listed simply as “The United States of America.”
The total acreage is nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.