The people who live around this land didn’t want this to happen. To quote Karl Ward, “The People of Millinocket voted this down. The People of Medway voted this down. The People of Patten voted this down. All voted were OVERWHELMINGLY AGAINST THIS. The State Representative of the Katahdin Region introduced a bill preventing this…it passed through both houses of the Maine Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor. I voted for this new law. The Commissioner of the Dept. Of Conservation is against it. Susan Collins and Bruce Poliquin and Angus King are against it… And Barack Hussein Obama, in Classic Liberal fashion, ignored us all and in stunning overreach, with the stroke of his pen, made a National Monument out of flat, swampy woods… I hope the Governor sues him…and ties this up in court for the next President to deal with.”
The executive order states that the Department of the Interior will manage the property through the National Park Service, in line with Quimby’s stated requirements. It allows “hunting by the public on the parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River” plus snowmobiling and orders that a management plan be created, “with full public involvement,” in three years.
Fulfilling a promise made by Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, Park Service workers will be in Millinocket on Thursday at an office at 200 Penobscot Ave., if they aren’t there already. Another office, closer to the monument and in Patten, will open shortly, according to leading park proponent Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also is due to visit the monument lands on Saturday, and a series of as many as five public meetings, or listening sessions, is scheduled to start by Sept. 12 in the Katahdin region, Park Service officials said.
Two leading monument opponents, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, and Gov. Paul LePage, had sharply divergent reactions to the executive order. Poliquin pledged to work with monument officials despite his opposition. LePage’s response was bitter, saying that if “average Mainers don’t realize by now that the political system is rigged against them by wealthy, self-serving liberals from away, this is a serious wake-up call.”
“President Obama is once again taking unilateral action against the will of the people, this time the citizens of rural Maine. The Legislature passed a resolution opposing a National Monument in the North Woods, members of Maine’s Congressional delegation opposed it and local citizens voted against it repeatedly,” LePage said in a statement. “Despite this lack of support, the Quimby family used high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to go around the people of Maine and have President Obama use his authority to designate this area a National Monument.”
LePage went on to say the monument was forced on Maine people by “rich, out-of-state liberals” and added that it likely would restrict traditional activities on the land.
St. Clair spokesman David Farmer said in response to LePage that “it is unfortunate that the governor is not interested in making this opportunity a success.”
Obama’s announcement is the culmination of about four years of strenuous effort for St. Clair, who took over the campaign after Quimby’s initial effort faltered. It was for him typically a seven days per week workload featuring hundreds of meetings and thousands of phone calls and emails. St. Clair hopes the designation will calm the political turbulence the campaign engendered, he said.
“It has been an all-consuming process. The biggest benefit is that a decision has been made. We are no longer debating about whether it will happen. We can work together in a very different capacity now because we know what we are working on,” St. Clair said Wednesday. “That attitude is so exciting to me. Now we can talk about how we can make sure that” all the monument’s neighbors benefit from it.
The executive order praises the Quimby lands as being rich in culture, natural beauty and “significant biodiversity.” Describing the view the land affords as awe-inspiring, the order recites a history familiar to most Mainers including the visits of Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt and John James Audubon of Audubon Society fame.
“Since the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago, these waterways and associated resources — the scenery, geology, flora and fauna, night skies, and more — have attracted people to this area,” the nine-page executive order states. “Native Americans still cherish these resources. Lumberjacks, river drivers and timber owners have earned their livings here. Artists, authors, scientists, conservationists, recreationists, and others have drawn knowledge and inspiration from this landscape.”
The executive order cites as one of the land’s greatest features something monument opponents will find ironic: Its proximity to Baxter State Park and view of Mount Katahdin. Monument foes derided the land as being essentially valueless without that viewshed.
“This post-glacial topography is studded with attractive small mountains, including some like Deasey, Lunksoos, and Barnard, that offer spectacular views of Mount Katahdin,” the order states. “Katahdin Woods and Waters abuts much of Baxter State Park’s eastern boundary, extending the conservation landscape through shared mountains, streams, corridors for plants and animals, and other natural systems.”
The announcement of the signing was released by the White House at 10:30 a.m. It is the 25th executive order Obama has issued to create a monument since 2011. The monument is the nation’s 151st since 1906, according to a National Park Service listing. Of the nation’s 59 national parks, 36 began as monuments, including Acadia National Park.
Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents, under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, can create monuments simply by writing an order.
The Quimby family issued a brief statement thanking the Obama administration for its “hard work to safeguard America’s natural treasures and for their efforts to prepare the National Park Service for its next 100 years of success.
“This designation is a fitting tribute to the ‘Centennial of America’s Greatest Idea,’” the statement concludes.
Officials running the monument’s neighbor, Baxter State Park, posted a notice on social media on Wednesday morning in anticipation of the decree.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with our new neighbor, the Department of the Interior. Baxter Park has 100 miles of boundary and we share this boundary with around a dozen different landowners,” the statement reads. “We seek to have a good working relationship with all our neighbors and we look forward to doing the same with our newest one.”
Located east of Baxter, the monument is expected to increase employment in the Katahdin region, where two paper mills have shuttered since 2008. The closures represent a direct loss of approximately 430 manufacturing jobs. The last mill, in East Millinocket, closed in 2014.
The order states that studies have shown that every dollar national parks draw generates $10 for the national economy. Most of the money stays in local communities. Park service holdings are a major part of an estimated $646 billion national outdoor economy, the executive order states.
Quimby’s dream, as she said when she launched her campaign in 2011, was to achieve a kind of parity with Gov. Percival Baxter by donating land to the National Park Service in 2016 — her gift to the nation that helped make her a millionaire. She began buying land in 2001. Thursday is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Park Service.
The order describes the land as a “$100 million gift” and includes Quimby’s promised $20 million donation “for initial park operational needs and infrastructure development” and a pledge for another $20 million in fundraising.
Penobscot County Registry of Deeds officials confirmed Tuesday the 13 deeds passing 87,563 acres from Quimby’s company, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., to what was listed simply as “The United States of America.”
The total acreage is nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park. Acadia, which began as a national monument in 1916, was the nation’s ninth most visited national park last year. It attracted close to 3 million visitors, who spent an estimated $247.9 million in local communities, in 2015, according to the executive order.
The executive order drew a flood of statements from monument supporters and opponents. Park opponent Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said the executive order “seemed inevitable.”
Park opponents feared that Quimby’s $40 million promise would overwhelm all other concerns and saddle Maine with unwanted federal authority damaging to local autonomy and industries. Their most glaring examples include Acadia annexing a 1,441-acre parcel on the Schoodic Peninsula in April without consulting Congress or the the park’s advisory commission, in apparent violation of a 1986 law. Another example: neighbors to Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument declaring an economic state of emergency in 2015, blaming federal policies for depressing their economy and leading to a steep drop in school population, about 20 years after President Bill Clinton created that monument.
“I hope we are wrong about a lot of things we think will happen. I suspect we won’t be. We hope it works out,” Meyers said.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, who revitalized the Quimby proposal in February 2105 when Millinocket officials announced that he sought their conditions for supporting a national park, said he has always been “concerned first and foremost with the economic well-being of the Katahdin region.”
“The question for me has been whether a designation would be a net benefit to the region and the state and also be compatible with the existing forest products industry as well as our long-held, and deeply cherished, tradition of open land use in Maine,” King said in a statement. “The benefits of the designation will far outweigh any detriment and — on balance — will be a significant benefit to Maine and the region.”
“It is critical to see this as an opportunity fully compatible with our existing forest products industry, including potential growth in woods-related businesses. This isn’t either-or, it’s both — and will provide much-needed diversity to the region’s economy,” he added.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, called the designation historic and exciting and predicted the monument “will bring millions of visitors to this beautiful and special part of our state.”
“The American people owe a debt of gratitude to Roxanne Quimby for this incredible act of generosity. 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,” Pingree said.
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