Psst. Anyone want a National Monument in Maine?

Posted on September 16, 2016 by Kenneth Gray

Usually we associate uniqueness, grandeur, history, and pleasure with our National Monuments and National Parks.  With President Obama’s August 24, 2016 Declaration of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument…not so much.

The controversial designation comes after a decades-long campaign by Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees natural cosmetics company, who was unabashed in making it clear that she saw this as a personal legacy.  Through her efforts and expense, more than 87,000 acres were obtained over the years and then donated to the U.S. on August 23rd. The President acted the next day. 

In acquiring the overwhelming underdeveloped land accessible only by dirt roads, Quimby had already restricted or limited the traditional logging, snowmobiling and hunting activities on much of the property, which did not endear her to locals or some visitors.  Further, logging groups and others concerned with increased federal restrictions raised concerns about road safety for the additional visitors expected to travel on the private logging roads providing access to the new National Monument and the loss of timberlands, especially if a national park were ultimately created.  (A number of national parks started as national monuments.)

Although the Department of Interior photos of the Monument show Mount Katahdin, a truly spectacular mountain in the Maine’s Baxter State Park, the National Monument lands only provide distant views of the mountain, not access to the state park or the mountain. Critics point out that there are no developed roads or camping sites on the National Monument lands, and local towns gain little advantage from the designation because traffic doesn’t flow through them to the remote location.   Undeveloped Maine woods are beautiful but remote.  Few people would go (way) out of the way or buy a “high clearance vehicle” to reach them -- and there are vast, undeveloped state and private forests at least as picturesque, more accessible and offering similar or better recreational opportunities.  Ever heard of the Allagash Wilderness? 

Most believe a majority of Mainers did not support the national park proposal, but no state-wide poll was conducted  Many Mainers, three-quarters of Maine’s congressional delegation, Maine’s governor and the state legislature had  opposed the concept, and the majority of the congressional delegation had opposed even designation as a national monument.  With no wave of support for the national park and lacking the congressional support required for a park, the option left to the President to lift his pen.

Maine is a wonderful place to visit, live and work, and has legitimate claims to its self-proclaimed moniker “Vacationland.”  But unless you are truly seeking generic backcountry experience (and competing with logging trucks on unpaved roads to get there), my recommendation is that you visit Baxter State Park and climb Mt. Katahdin (the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), or explore Acadia National Park on Mt Desert Island.  At least I can promise you won’t be disappointed.



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