By A.J. Higgins
President Barack Obama has accepted the gift of about 87,500 acres of land from Roxanne Quimby’s foundation and designated it today as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
In a written statement from the White House, the Obama administration said the region’s awe-inspiring mountains, forests and waters qualified the land for the national monument designation, which some have perceived as a stepping stone to the creation of a national park.
The administration’s statement said the new monument designation builds on the president’s commitment to protecting land, water and wildlife for future generations. The designation, according to the statement, will permanently protect significant natural, scientific, historic and cultural resources, wildlife habitat, and one of the most pristine watersheds in the Northeast, ensuring that present and future generations are able to enjoy these lands.
Created by a unilateral action by the president, the new national monument — which will be managed by the National Park Service — will protect approximately 87,500 acres, including the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of the Maine Woods that is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski.
“This extraordinary gift sets the stage for a strong and vibrant second century for America’s national parks,” Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, said in a statement. “Through their vision and generosity, Ms. Quimby and her family are carrying on the philanthropic tradition from which the national parks were born 100 years ago, and which helped create Grand Teton, Acadia, and Virgin Islands National Parks.”
In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region. The protected area, together with the neighboring Baxter State Park to the west, will ensure that this large landscape remains intact, bolstering the forest’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.
Quimby, Burt’s Bees founder, and her son Lucas St. Clair transferred the land Tuesday to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
St. Clair is the president of Elliotsville Plantation Inc, the nonprofit foundation that has been spearheading the park effort for the past several years. Quimby herself stepped away from the spotlights and from speaking publicly about her plans. She had become a lightning rod for opponents who fear increased interference from the federal government and worry that a national park or monument will further erode the economic future of the forest products industry and change the character of the Katahdin region.
Sam Huston of Ragged Lake was among those who turned out in East Millinocket for a meeting with Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in May. Many of those attending the meeting oppose the idea of a park in the region, although the proposal has received mixed reviews from surrounding communities.
Huston said he doesn’t like the way the government runs things, especially national parks.
“Yellowstone, it’s a zoo,” Huston said. “I’ve been to Glacier National Park, it’s a zoo, not as bad as Yellowstone. They can’t fund and take care of the parks they got now because they’re in debt. They couldn’t keep an ant farm running. Just keep the hell, the government out of this state. Let the state run the things.”
At the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the leading Maine environmental organization that has been working to establish this new national monument, executive director Lisa Pohlmann heralded the president’s decision.
“We are thrilled about President Obama’s decision to establish a new national monument in Maine on land east of Baxter State Park,” Pohlmann said. “We can think of no better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service than with the addition of the wonderful Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.”
Pohlmann noted that the Quimby foundation gift was facilitated by the National Park Foundation as part of its Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.
The National Park Service wasted little time promoting its newest monument. Shortly after Obama notified the media that the federal government has accepted Quimby’s 87,000-acre land donation in the Katahdin region, the park service activated a web page with a phone number for future visitors to call.
“Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Sorry we are not here to take your call. Please leave your voicemail and we will take your call as soon as we can,” the monument’s voicemail says.
The website contains basic information about the monument, including attractions, accommodations, visiting hours and fees. Right now there are no fees, because there’s no visitor’s center yet. The website lists an address of State Street in Boston.
The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was also greeted by the park service Twitter account, which tweeted, “Welcome to the family #413 Katahdin Woods and National Monument!” The number 413 refers to the number of monuments and parks currently in the United States.
“While opposed to a unilateral decision, ignoring the votes in the local towns, the Maine Legislature, and Congress, I will continue to work with everyone to move this project forward in the right way in order to build a stronger economy that creates more and better paying jobs in the Katahdin Region and in Maine,” says U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District in a statement. “All public officials must do everything humanely possible to help ensure local input as to how this new federal land will be managed. Our local job creators—not Washington bureaucrats—know best how to use our working forests and provide proper access for industries to create more jobs including those in the outdoor recreation businesses, like snowmobiling, hunting, rafting, camping and so on.”
In addition to the donation of the land, the approximately $100 million gift includes $20 million to supplement federal funds for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development at the new monument, and a pledge of another $20 million in future philanthropic support.