From a front-row seat in Patten, I’ve witnessed the type of economic interest and activity that begins to percolate when a national monument gets designated. My town is one of the gateway communities to one of America’s newest monuments, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
The monument enjoys widespread support in our region and throughout the state, for good reason. National monuments help local communities by gaining greater visibility to attract more visitors and dollars that sustain jobs and diversify local economies.
In a New Year’s travel story on Jan. 6, CNN ranked the Katahdin monument as No. 5 in a list of the best 17 places — in the world — to visit this year. I think my town can live with the idea of being one of the best places on the planet to visit. What chamber of commerce or tourist office doesn’t want that distinction?
The increased interest in visiting and doing business in Patten is a clear benefit of having a nearby national monument, a unit of our venerable National Park Service.
That’s why it’s puzzling to me that two dozen U.S. senators — thankfully, none from Maine — would try to shut the door on future monuments designated, as Katahdin was, through the Antiquities Act. That law protects nationally owned places that are important for their historic or natural characteristics.
The Antiquities Act is the tool, first used by President Theodore Roosevelt, that provided initial preservation for about half of our national parks, including Acadia and the Grand Canyon. This law applies to land that is already owned by Americans.
These senators have proposed a bill, S. 33, that would require presidents to receive approval from Congress and the governor and legislature in a state where a monument would be located before the designation could be made. With so many hoops and hurdles, this would essentially rip up the Antiquities Act.
Why should Katahdin or other rural communities around the country be denied the economic opportunities that monuments deliver? Many places really need that economic shot in the arm.
Outdoor recreation adds about $5.3 billion in consumer spending to Maine’s economy and supports 65,000 direct jobs, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. That translates into $1.5 billion in wages and salaries for Mainers and $382 million in state and local tax revenue.
In the Katahdin example, we are especially fortunate that the Quimby family gave the American people $40 million for operation of the Katahdin monument in addition to the donation of 87,500 acres to the National Park Service. The park service reports that for every dollar invested in national parks, local communities see a 10-fold return.
Americans appreciate the clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat, as well as recreation options that come from protected land, and the vast majority favor protection. In a 2014 poll, 90 percent of Americans said they support the permanent protection of public lands, monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness.
There’s an adage — “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That applies to the Antiquities Act, which has been used by eight Republican presidents and eight Democratic presidents over the past century. As the deliberations over recent monuments shows, it is a careful, inclusive process that puts the local community at the center of discussion. It’s typically the local community that proposes and advocates for new monument designations.
While the Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to protect important natural or historic places, the law also preserves congressional authority to designate monuments, change them to national parks, or withdraw protection from the land.
There’s a clear bottom line here: The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is already boosting and helping to diversify Maine’s economy. It’s something we need in this region.
Likewise, the Antiquities Act is a time-tested law that has only helped local communities, and it has enriched the owners as well — the American people — who have these parks and monuments available to visit and enjoy for generations to come.
I urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to defend the Antiquities Act and Maine’s natural heritage that is so deserving of protection.
Richard H. Schmidt III is chairman of the Board of Selectmen in Patten.