In the midst of celebration of the National Parks Foundation’s 100th birthday, President Obama has given the American outdoors a big present. The president declared that a sprawling 87,500 acres in Maine will be protected as a national monument.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will connect with the Baxter State Park to create one of the largest spanses of federally protected land on the east coast. Katahdin is heralded as a recreational haven for the northeast — with hiking, paddlesports, fishing, hunting, and winter sports as regular activities that visitors are able to enjoy in the area. We spoke with David Farmer, communications manager of Elliotsville Plantation (the nonprofit responsible for bringing national attention to the designation) and Christina Marts, community planner of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, to get the expert take on what to look forward to when it comes to playing in America's newest backyard.
1. Snowmobiling in the winter.
The east side of the monument is open all winter to snowmobiles, so you can reach the furthest parts of the landscape even when winter weather conditions make access nearly impossible.
2. You can see the stars.
"With its remoteness, the monument offers incredible viewing of dark night skies filled with stars, planets, and occasional displays of the aurora borealis," Marts says.
3. The land is open to hunting.
The same east end that is open to snowmobiles is also open to seasonal hunting. "Every activity that was allowed on the land prior to the president’s proclamation is allowed today," Farmer says. "The monument, which is managed by the National Park Service, forever guarantees that there will be public access for hunting and snowmobiling, protecting these traditional activities that are critical to the area’s economy. Such protections are unusual for national monuments."
4. The Penobscot River is a gem.
"The East Branch of the Penobscot River is amazing as it runs from the north of the property to the south," Farmer says. "It includes rapids and white water and slow calm floodplains and deadwaters." Whether on a hike or a paddle, the river is the heart of the monument, along with Seboeis River and Wassataquoik Stream.
5. The mountains. Enough said.
Leave the river and climb Barnard Mountain and you have an unbroken view of Mount Katahdin, Katahdin Lake, and an unbroken valley of unimaginable green.
6. You can spot some rare wildlife.
The area offers excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing. "The large protected landscape supports many wide-ranging wildlife species including ruffed grouse, moose, black bear, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, American marten, bobcat, and the federally threatened Canada lynx," Marts says.
7. It's creating vital jobs in Maine.
"We believe that it will bring incredible economic opportunity to the Katahdin region, which has been hard hit by the decline of manufacturing," Farmer says. "It will create jobs and draw new people and new energy to the area."
8. And improving the economy for all locals.
The monument includes a $40 million endowment — $20 million from the foundation that donated the land and a commitment to raise an additional $20 million. "The endowment creates a very special public-private partnership and will help to offset costs for taxpayers," Farmer says. "Another unique feature is that the foundation has reserved rights on the property so that it can continue to make infrastructure improvements right now, putting people to work immediately and jump starting the economic benefits that the monument will create."
9. There's ancient history.
"Geologically, the area reveals a remarkably complete exposure of Paleozoic rock strata with well-preserved fossils, including a 1,000 foot-long exposure of rock over 500 million years old," Marts says.
10. It's artist-approved.
"Artists and photographers have left indelible images of the area, from John James Audubon’s sketches of flora and fauna along the East Branch for his masterpiece Birds of America, to Frederic Edwin Church’s and his Hudson River School colleagues’ landscapes of Mount Katahdin and environs, to the paintings and photographs of logging activities on the Wassataquoik and Seboeis by other artists," Marts says. Artists frequent the area and continue to paint and photograph today.
11. The land conservation is setting a precedent.
We know that climate change is caused by human activity and that only human actions can help stem its consequences. By protecting landscapes, water, and trees, we are fighting back against the damaging effects pollution has on our planet. "And we’re also protecting a very special place for generations to come — a place that can be enjoyed and a respite from a world that can at times move too fast," Farmer says.
12. The recreational opportunities are nearly endless.
The new monument is essentially divided into two parts. The areas east of the East Branch are open to hunting, snowmobiling, fishing, hiking, canoeing, bike riding, camping, horseback riding, cross country skiing. On the lands west of the East Branch, the same activities are allowed except for hunting and snowmobiling.
13. It's easily accessible.
Katahdin Woods and Waters is just an hour from Bangor (where you can hang and eat a lobster or two) and the airport.
14. It's got another president's seal of approval.
"It’s a place to see a moose or a maybe lynx, and to explore the very place that inspired Teddy Roosevelt and Henry David Thoreau and helped give birth to the modern conservation movement," Farmer says.