On August 24, U.S. President Barack Obama used his executive authority to create the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on land donated to the federal government by entrepreneur and conservationist Roxanne Quimby. More than 87,500 acres of forestland in Maine’s fabled North Woods was designated in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service, in a historic but unilateral decision following years of bitter debate.
The new national monument – which will be managed by the National Park Service – will include “the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of the Maine Woods that is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski. In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region. 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.”
“Following years of support from many local and state elected officials, tribal leaders, businesses and members of the public across the state, this designation will build on the robust tradition of growing the park system through private philanthropy, and will reinforce the need to continue protecting our great outdoors as we enter the second century of the National Park Service. The land has been donated to the Federal Government by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby’s foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., facilitated by the National Park Foundation as part of its Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks. In addition to the donation of the land, the approximately $100 million gift includes $20 million to supplement federal funds for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development at the new monument, and a pledge of another $20 million in future philanthropic support.”
With the stroke of a pen, Obama created the second national monument in Maine history after Acadia National Park’s precursor – on land east of Baxter State Park in an area facing severe economic uncertainty. The move is likely to delight conservation activists and infuriate local opponents fearful the designation is trading potential industrial-based opportunities in the Katahdin region for mostly seasonal tourism jobs. While organizations such as the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce hope it will lure more tourists and create jobs, opponents warned it could further destabilize a forest products industry struggling to rebound from the closure of the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills. Many others have mixed views, seeing significant jobs potential but not in the industry that was once the backbone of the region. Nevertheless, the designation is a substantial yet partial victory for Roxanne Quimby, the wealthy co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line whose nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., donated the land to the federal government this month. Quimby has pushed for years for a full-fledged national park in the North Woods but sought a lesser monument designation because it did not require congressional approval. On August 28, she was joined by Lucas St. Clair and his twin sister Hannah Quimby to host a grand celebration on the shores of Millinocket Lake at New England Outdoor Center’s Twin Pine Camps. The Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Wilderness Society, The Pew Charitable Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Conservation Lands Fund joined Roxanne, Lucas, and Hannah in thanking everyone who contributed to securing the designation of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument by President Barack Obama. IAT Maine’s Don Hudson, Phine Ewing, Walter Anderson, Elaine and Eric Hendrickson, Lindsay and Michael Downing, Mark and Susan Adams, Bart DeWolf, former board member Eric Horschak, Aaron Meguier, Terry and Craig Hill, and numerous other IAT members and friends were on hand to bask in the great excitement and appreciation sparked by the Quimby family’s generous gift — the largest gift to the people of the United States since the days of John D. Rockefeller and Paul Mellon. The New England Outdoor Center’s Matt Polstein welcomed nearly 300 people to the formal gathering, looking out across Millinocket Lake to Katahdin, shortly after 5:00 pm. Sunday, August 28th. The highlight speeches were made by Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell and Liliane Willens. Secretary Jewell spoke about the significance of the gift to the nation, the importance of land such as this to the health and well-being of all Americans, and the special qualities of the land — the East Branch of the Penobscot, the hiking opportunities — especially the IAT, and the richness of the geologic heritage.
Liliane Willens, Roxanne’s aunt, regaled the crowd with stories about her family’s path from Russia, through Shanghai, to the United States beginning after the Russian Revolution and concluding at the end of World War II. Lily believes Roxanne developed qualities of perseverance, grit, and determination from her maternal grandmother, who had lead the family through much of that trek. When Lucas St. Clair addressed the crowd he too raised a great laugh of appreciation when he spoke about the power and dominance of women in his family, and how at a young age he learned not to second guess either his mother’s wisdom or her determination to get a job done. Lucas was clearly relieved that this particular job was done!
The hard-working staff of NEOC provided the wonderful setting for the gathering, along with delicious food and drink. Dave Mallett and his band took the party deep into the night with an endless serenade for the party-goers. The first 31 miles of the IAT is now on land considered by President Barack Obama to be a national treasure, and we agree!