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Nearly six years ago, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was created by presidential executive order. Since then, the monument – on land donated to the federal government by Roxanne Quimby and her family – has brought visitors and new economic activity to the region.
Now, Maine’s senators have introduced legislation to allow an expansion of the monument, which could spread its benefits more directly to the Millinocket area. Federal legislation is needed to change the boundaries of national monuments and parks.
The bill would allow land, acquired from willing sellers, to be added to the monument so that a new entry road could be built at its southern end. This would allow visitors to directly access the monument from Millinocket, which is closer to major roadways such as Interstate 95 and is a gateway to Baxter State Park. Currently, visitors must enter the park from the east near Sherman or the north beyond Shin Pond Village. The bill would allow about 43,000 acres to be added to the monument.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Angus King, an independent, and co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican.
“Since its establishment, Katahdin Woods and Waters has helped thousands of people from around the world enjoy Maine’s unmatched beauty and brought important economic opportunity to our state,” King said in a press release announcing the legislation last week. “The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act would build on the Monument’s successes and let more people experience this Maine treasure. The expansions the bill authorizes would allow for a smoother entry into the park, bring visitors closer to the heart of the Millinocket community, and further expand the Katahdin region’s tourism economy. It’s an important step to support the future of the Monument and Maine’s outdoor recreation heritage.”
In other words, the monument – which had been opposed by former governor Paul LePage and many area residents – is now seen as a success and more businesses and people in the region want to benefit from it. That’s a great endorsement of the monument’s impact on a region that was hit hard by changes in the timber and paper industries.
“With vast acres of forests, scenic trails, pristine rivers, and breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, KWW is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts,” Collins said in the same press release. “By facilitating the creation of a second entrance, this commonsense bill would allow more visitors to explore the monument more easily from the south, while preserving existing access to hunting, fishing, and snowmobiling. Additionally, by enhancing the accessibility of KWW, this bill would provide a boost to Millinocket, East Millinocket, and other local communities, helping to create jobs. I have supported efforts to make KWW a success, and this legislation would help the Katahdin region thrive and chart a better economic future.”
The bill also includes provisions to allow the National Park Service to acquire buildings for monument administration and visitor services outside of park boundaries, which will also spread its benefit beyond its boundaries. All expansions will occur with the cooperation of willing landowners and are expressly forbidden from being done through eminent domain.
The monument, which was controversial long before it was created, remains a bit out of the way and, therefore, underutilized. Easing access and improving amenities in the monument, which is underway, will make it more attractive to visitors, from Maine and beyond.