Obama Declares New Katahdin Woods and Water National Monument

Controversial new unit established on eve of NPS's 100th birthday.
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Controversial new unit established on eve of NPS's 100th birthday.

As birthday gifts go, it was a big one: On Wednesday, the day before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service, President Barack Obama designated a new national monument in Maine's North Woods.

Dubbed the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the new unit covers 87,500 acres of rivers, mountains, and forests near Baxter State Park, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Entrepreneur Roxane Quimby, best known as the founder of Burt's Bees, donated the land, along with $20 million in operational funding and a pledge of $20 million in future support.

Besides preserving recreational opportunities and protecting natural resources like the East Branch of the Penobscot River, the new park will act as a bulwark against climate change, the White House said in a statement.

"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," it wrote.

Quimby, along with a series of non-profit partners, spent more than two decades pushing for a new national park in Maine before this week's success. In 1994, she and RESTORE: The North Woods proposed a 3.2-million-acre park in the area. Had it been successful, it would have become the second-largest national park outside of Alaska, after Death Valley. Instead, the proposal foundered in the face of harsh opposition from landowners and logging companies.

"I'm surprised they didn't ask for the whole state," Leon Favreau, president of landowner advocacy group Multiple Use Association, told the Bangor Daily News at the time. "These are ridiculous people asking for ridiculous things."

Government officials in Maine have been divided in their responses so far to the new, smaller monument. This spring, the state's legislature passed an unenforceable ban against its creation. Governor Paul LePage called the effort to establish the monument an "ego play" by out-of-state officials.

"It isn't exactly Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon," Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb told local radio station WVOM. "It's flat woodlands and much of it is swampy woodlands."

In contrast, Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine's 1st district, praised the monument, saying it would "bring economic development" to that corner of the state.

"The American people owe a debt of gratitude to Roxanne Quimby for this incredible act of generosity," Pingree wrote in a statement. "She worked hard to build a great company from the ground up, and the first thing she did when she sold it was to figure out how to give back to the people of Maine by donating this land. Generations of Americans will benefit from her gift."