Action & Adventure in the Northeast

Opinion: Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

On August 24th, Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, came one step closer to realizing her dream of preserving the area around Mount Katahdin for generations to come. Over the past two decades, Quimby had purchased 87,500 acres of land surrounding Baxter State Park from the state’s shrinking forest products industry with the goal of creating a new national park. However, Quimby has been unable to gain full support for the park from Maine’s congressional delegation, which is generally required to create a new park. This is where the Antiquities Act and Presidential authority come into play.

Today we realize that the US Congress is a massive, slow moving beast that typically cannot get anything accomplished, hence the term “It takes an act of congress…”. Apparently, that was the case over 100 years ago as well. It was then that Theodore Roosevelt created the Antiquities Act in 1906 to create a means to quickly protect lands that are of historical or scientific importance. Such lands are designated as national monuments. Before this turns into a political conversation, it should be noted that a great majority of US Presidents from both political parties have summoned the power of the Antiquities Act to create monuments.

So the question is: Is creating a National Monument around Mt. Katahdin is a good thing or not? Believe it or not, some people are pissed, and much of the reason has to do with the culture ingrained in many North Woods Mainers. When Quimby purchased the land, she allowed some forms of recreational use, but cut off two of Maine’s most popular activities: hunting and snowmobiling, which had previously been permitted while the land was owned by the logging companies. While she had every right to impose restrictions on her private land, strategically she blundered by excluding a significant percentage of Maine residents and outdoors people. That created a distrust that continues today, even though her son, Lucas St. Claire, had lifted those restrictions on some of the land after assuming control of the National Park campaign. Of course, now that the land is administered by the National Park Service, some Maine residents fear an onslaught of regulations and fees that often accompany this type of federal designation.

My personal opinion is that the creation of Katahdin National Monument is a net positive. Over time, the monument will create not only recreational opportunities for residents and tourists alike, but may bolster the tourism industry in north-central Maine around Mt. Katahdin, filling a void left by the fading paper industry. The unemployment rate in Maine has improved over the past year. However, according to the state’s Center for Workforce Research and Information, the rate in Piscataquis County, where Baxter State Park is located, remains one of the highest in the state at 4.9%. That is about on par with the rest of the US. Not terrible, but a few more economic opportunities won’t hurt.

The National Park service needs to recognize, however, that this land will be used primarily my Maine residents, especially in the colder months. They need to allow those activities that Mainers have chosen as their pastimes, including hunting and snowmobiling. Those that believe that they are entitled to a pristine wilderness experience without the drone of a Polaris in the background should think about the historical use of the land in question, as well as the local culture. Sure, snowmobiles are loud. But they pass quickly and the noise goes away. It’s not that big of a deal and there is plenty of room for everyone. If it’s managed correctly, everyone can enjoy and benefit from the new monument and receive the support of the local population that is critical for success.

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