One day before the centennial anniversary of America's National Parks Service, President Obama has kicked off the celebration by adding one more national park.
Approximately 87,500 acres of land in Maine's North Woods will be protected under the new designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The land was donated to the government on Tuesday by Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt's Bees, and officially made a national monument Wednesday after a years-long push full of obstacles and controversy.
"In addition to protecting spectacular geology, significant biodiversity and recreational opportunities, the new monument will help support climate resiliency in the region," the White House said in a statement Wednesday. "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."
As one of the last remaining large swaths of wilderness on the East Coast, it's possible that the monument "may be one of the last, large national parks that we see in our lifetime," said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association, in an interview with The Washington Post. In a few years, she said, "We’ll look back and say, 'We can’t ever imagine why this was a controversy.'"
The road to designation was not an easy one for the Quimby family and their land, as the idea of making the land into a national monument was met with backlash from many local residents and politicians.
Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage (R) said it “demonstrates that rich, out-of-state liberals can force their unpopular agenda on the Maine people against their will,” The Washington Post reports.
Those opposed to the national monument designation argue that it will give the federal government too much control over the rural area, and will likely ban snowmobiling and some other recreational activities within the park site. Furthermore, some have raised concerns that the Park Service will not be able to afford to properly maintain the area at a time when the agency is struggling to take care of some of its existing parks. As The Christian Science Monitor's Todd Wilkinson reported last month:
The National Park Service officially turns 100 years old Aug. 25. The much-hyped centennial is not only a birthday celebrating what the late writer Wallace Stegner called the best idea this country ever had. It is also a time of profound introspection, even worry, for an agency entrusted with overseeing one of the world’s most spectacular collections of outdoor sanctuaries.
Critics say the Park Service – beleaguered by deteriorating roads and buildings, threats to natural resources, overwhelming public use, and the potential effects of climate change – is ill-equipped to steward its 411 parks, cultural sites, and historical monuments forward another 100 years. They believe the sacred national park experience that so many people journey to see has already vanished at some of the most popular destinations and will only get worse without a serious infusion of money and a rededication to preservation.
Those in favor of the designation say that, despite any challenges the Park Service may face in the upkeep of the park, the move is a step forward for Maine's environment.
"The president’s action today will conserve some of Maine’s most cherished forest lands and waters," said Jeremy Sheaffer, Maine director for the Wilderness Society, according to The Hill. "Preserving this wild area will help Mainers throughout the state continue to enjoy the freedom to hike, hunt and fish along with other outdoor traditions that have been part of our natural heritage for many generations."
Advocates of the National Park system say that the designated sites are needed today more than ever as a place to escape from an increasingly fast-paced, technology-dependent society. And many Americans seem to agree: last year, for the first time in history, Yellowstone received more than 4 million visits.
"Our national parks are breathing spaces in a country that is increasingly holding its breath," said Terry Tempest Williams, considered to be one of the greatest living writers of the American West, in an interview with the Monitor earlier this month. "We see the violence in the latest mass shooting in Orlando. We know the kind of madness a world at war with itself breeds. It is easy to fall into despair. But then, we stand before El Capitan in Yosemite Valley or look out across the vast erosional beauty of the Grand Canyon where we can see the curvature of the Earth, we are returned to a sense of wholeness in the world – an enduring beauty that will not only survive us but inspire us to be our highest and deepest selves."