Our Nation’s Newest National Monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine

Stunning views of Maine’s highest mountain. Three wild rivers and streams. Vast forests stretching to the horizon.

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, our newest national monument, offers ample benefits and opportunities for wildlife to live and people to visit. The area provides habitat for moose, bear, Canada lynx, loons, and colorful warblers. The national monument also offers miles and miles of hiking trails, abandoned gravel roads perfect for bicycling and cross country skiing, inviting waters for fishing and paddling, and just the right habitat for upland bird hunting.

Katahdin Woods and Waters was established by President Obama on August 24th, 2016, in honor of the National Park Service Centennial. This long-awaited moment was the culmination of a process that began back in 2003, when Roxanne Quimby, the philanthropic founder of Burt’s Bees, envisioned purchasing the first parcel of land in what would eventually become the monument.

Paddling the East Branch of the Penobscot River. Photo by Jeff Pidot
Paddling the East Branch of the Penobscot River. Photo by Jeff Pidot

Over the next 13 years, Ms. Quimby purchased 13 additional parcels, totaling 87,500 acres of land. Shortly before President Obama took action, Ms. Quimby donated those lands to the American people in perpetuity, along with a $20 million endowment and a pledge to raise an additional $20 million for management and operations costs.

But, the huge amount of work Ms. Quimby undertook to amass the necessary funds and negotiate the 13 separate land purchases are only part of the effort that was required to establish the monument. Like many national monuments and parks before it, there was significant initial opposition to Katahdin Woods and Waters. The primary opposition was from some residents of nearby communities whose past was tied exclusively to the paper making industry.

Spruce grouse also live in this beautiful area. Photo by ©Mark Picard
Spruce grouse also live in this beautiful area. Photo by ©Mark Picard

Even though one of the two paper mills in the region closed in 2008, and the other shuttered in 2013, change was difficult. Over the past five years, I met with hundreds of people – initially one at a time, then slowly in small groups – explaining the monument proposal, hearing people’s concerns, and trying to address those issues. To address these concerns, specific areas were designated for hunting; access for snowmobiles on important through-routes was guaranteed; and assurances were given that this monument would not lead to further air quality regulations.

The turning point in the designation process occurred in 2014, when the board of the local chamber of commerce voted unanimously to endorse the monument proposal. They clearly understood the potential economic benefits that a federally protected area like this could bring to their communities.

Supporting businesses risked boycotts from opponents of the proposal. Lifelong residents of the region, whose entire families had been tied to the paper making industry for generations, showed tremendous courage by speaking up through countless letters, phone calls and meetings, publicly endorsing the proposal as a way to revitalize their communities.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, for which I have worked for 26 years, was thrilled to work with residents of the Katahdin region, the Quimby family, state supporters, and colleagues from all across the country to make this monument a reality. It was a huge team effort and remarkable achievement.

Katahdin Woods and Waters’ trails are now open, the scenic loop road has been graded, and the colors in Maine’s forests are poised to turn red, orange and yellow. It’s time to come visit to see what our nation’s newest national monument has to offer you!

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About the Author: Cathy Johnson is the Forests and Wildlife Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine