On the eve of the National Park Service's centennial celebration, the White House has given the agency its 413th asset: A large new national monument in northern Maine. But President Obama's designation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is more than just a way of honoring the NPS. As one of the last and largest undeveloped tracts of land in the eastern United States, the monument could be one of the final large national park sites ever on the East Coast.
The monument will protect approximately 87,500 acres of Maine woods valued for numerous recreational activities, including hiking, canoeing, hunting, fishing, and a variety of winter sports. With the impacts of climate change being documented at national parks across the country, the new Maine monument will also help preserve the land in the face of these threats.
"In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region," states the press release. "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."
With the National Park Service facing an operations and maintenance backlog of $12 billion, the fact that the land was donated to the Federal Government by the founder of Burt's Bees, Roxanne Quimby, adds a further uplifting note to the story. The gift, made by Quimby’s foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., is valued at approximately $100 million and includes $20 million to supplement federal funds for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development, and a pledge of another $20 million in future philanthropic support.
Quimby had originally wanted the land to be designated a national park, a status that requires congressional action as opposed to the executive action used to create national monuments. A number of national parks—including Maine's other national park, Acadia National Park—started out as monuments.
The dispute over the role of the federal government in land management has spread nationwide, and in Maine many locals opposed the designation on principle.
At one point, Republican Gov. Paul LePage called it an "ego play" by "out-of-state liberals."
Quimby's son, Lucas St. Clair, who helped get the monument proposal through the final stages, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that time will make it clear that this is the right use of the land.
"Many parks over the history of the park system have been criticized upon creation," he said. "Gov. LePage is not the first governor to oppose the creation of a new park. But when we look to the future, we see huge amounts of success."
Obama has utilized his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to expand public lands more than any other president, establishing a total of 23 national monuments. With many members of Congress more interested in trying to block Obama’s authority to designate monuments than creating new public spaces themselves, the president has relied on executive actions to achieve most of his preservation-related aims—something he’s been forced to do in other realms of policy as well.
Here's a video from the White House announcing the new monument: