Today, President Obama created Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, an 87,500-acre swath of Maine forest and water in the state’s North Woods. The monument will protect a diverse area filled with some of Maine’s most beautiful land—a stretch of species-rich forest along the Penobscot River that was donated to the federal government by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees.
At first blush, the transfer of wondrous natural land from an owner to the government might seem simple, but in this case it was anything but. Though the transaction itself went off without a hitch, the proposed exchange has been debated and fought for over a decade. As Nick Sambides Jr. reports for The Bangor Daily News, Quimby’s donation was opposed by everyone from state legislators to local sportspeople, who argued that the park represented a federal encroachment into the notoriously free-spirited state and that it might make it harder for hunters and fishers to access the area.
Quimby and her supporters had an ambitious vision: To turn the donated land into America’s newest national park and donate funds for the park’s operation, to boot. But the concept was loudly denounced by opponents. As Brady Dennis previously reported for the Post, Quimby was accused of closing off access to hunting and recreational use despite local custom and eventually she put her son, Lucas St. Clair, in charge of the effort. The proposal evolved into a national park and national recreation area instead—one that would allow mixed use and close off fewer of Maine’s timber resources. It gained traction via conservation groups and the support of local stakeholders like the Penobscot Nation, who originally inhabited the area.
President Obama’s designation, which the White House heralded in a press release as one that “will build upon the robust tradition of growing the park system through private philanthropy,” sidesteps the national park question by turning the area into a national monument. The less-prestigious designation has an ulterior motive: While sitting presidents can designate areas as national monuments under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, only an act of Congress can create a national park. Thus far, Obama has created or expanded more than two dozen national monuments and increased protected lands and waters in the United States by more than 265 million acres.
This move is expected to set the stage for Katahdin to become Maine’s second national park. As Eilperin and Dennis report, it could be the last such site on the East Coast. “It may be one of the last, large national parks that we see in our lifetime,” Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, told Eilperin and Dennis. That is, if it becomes a national park at all.
For now, though, it’s a monument—the only one within the National Park Service that will allow hunting, per a compromise provision attached to Quimby’s gift. There may have been strings attached, but for the thousands of campers, hikers and sportspeople who can now enjoy the parks (and the species who will be protected by the new designation), all that matters is that it's now designated.