By Marissa Bodnar
WGME 13 news story
PATTEN (WGME) — A member of President Obama’s Cabinet explored the site of the nation’s newest national monument over the weekend, testing out the water and hiking trails.
CBS 13 was the only television crew along for the tour.
Lucas St. Clair wasn’t sure the day would ever come.
It was a sparkling Saturday morning, and he was sharing a canoe with Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
“This is stunning,” said Jewell.
Her visit marks the finish line St. Clair has been working toward for years.
“To feel like this landscape is now part of the collection of the crown jewels of the national park system is just as exciting as it gets,” he said.
His mom, Roxanne Quimby, donated nearly 88,000 acres of land to the federal government last week, one day before the president designated it “The Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument.”
“Oh, there’s no question this was a good decision,” said Jewell.
Paddling eight miles down the East Branch of the Penobscot River, Jewell, an avid outdoorswoman herself, got to witness wildlife and even some white water.
By lunch time, there was a lot to reflect on.
“We got a sense of just how special this landscape is,” Jewell said.
For years, people in nearby towns have protested, lining roads with anti-monument signs, and voting against the project in referendums.
“There have been consistent controversies,” said Jewell. “Lots of controversy around Grand Teton, Grand Canyon. People would like these places just for themselves in some cases.”
The National Park Service will host a series of public feedback sessions as it develops a management plan. Not only are the community’s thoughts welcome, Jewell said, they’re wanted.
“The public knows these landscapes very, very well, and so we want to listen to them and know what’s here,” said Jewell.
With the land, comes a $40 million endowment; $20 million now, and $20 million to be fund-raised. It’s a big help, since the National Park Service is facing a $12 billion maintenance back log.
“The $20 million that comes, basically with the gift, will enable us to put immediately some visitor services in place,” Jewell said.
St. Clair showed off some of the work that’s already been done as they hiked a mile-and-a-half to Grand Pitch falls, a scenic stop along the International Appalachian Trail.
But perhaps the most memorable moment came at an unassuming shelter, where Jewell read messages from visitors, before taking a few minutes to pen her own.
“Thank you, Roxanne Quimby and family for this amazing, forever gift to all Americans and the generations to come,” said Jewell, as she fought back tears. “And now all will have an opportunity to experience the beauty and the bounty of the Maine woods.”
And with that, she left her mark on the monument.