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President's Pen Establishes New National Monuments

Kayak at Sunset San Juan Islands.
Mark B. Gardner
San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau
Kayak at Sunset San Juan Islands.

President Obama on Monday designated five new national monuments, including one in Maryland dedicated to anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman and another setting aside Washington state's San Juan Islands.

"These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country," President Obama said in a statement. "By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come."

Here's a list of the new dedications:

-- First State National Monument in Delaware and Pennsylvania:

Includes 1,100 acres of land in the Brandywine Valley along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border that National Parks Traveler says was originally acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682:

"Woodlawn property lies on the banks of the Brandywine River, primarily in Delaware and extending north into Pennsylvania. Nearby, in 1777, General George Washington's troops defended against British forces in the largest battle of the American Revolution. Since then, the Brandywine Valley's natural beauty has inspired generations of artists, including acclaimed painter Andrew Wyeth. Today, however, rapid development is squeezing the pristine open spaces that remain."

Vice President Joe Biden says the monument tells "the story of the essential role my state played in the history of the United States."

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, there is still legislation pending to turn the area into a full-fledged national park, which "has had wide support from conservationists, community and civic groups, elected officials and the Lenni-Lenape tribe."

-- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, Maryland:

The African-American abolitionist who directed a secret network of safe houses to move slaves to freedom in the North will be honored with a national monument on land in Dorchester County, Md., on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, a key stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

"Members of Maryland's congressional delegation have for years sought to approve funding to honor Tubman on the Eastern Shore. The monument designation coincides with this year's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Tubman's death March 10."

According to The Auburn Citizen:

"The national monument designation won't affect legislation in Congress that would create national historical parks in Auburn and on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where the monument will be located. ... The national historical park in Maryland would include several significant sites from the first half of Tubman's life. In Auburn, the national historical park would consist of Tubman's home and the Home for the Aged on South Street. The Thompson AME Zion Church and Fort Hill Cemetery, where Tubman's grave site is located, would also be part of the park."

-- Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico:

The Albuquerque Journal describes this area, 28 miles north of Taos near the Colorado border, as:

" ... a swath of unspoiled country that may appear just modestly attractive compared to the neighboring Sangre de Cristo range and the likes of Bandelier. But in reality, the northern reaches of the Rio Grande house a treasure trove of scenery and natural resources, including wildlife, and historical remnants ranging from petroglyphs to parts of El Camino Real. The river gorge alone, from its mouth near Pilar all the way to the Colorado border, is truly a wonder."

Some of the petroglyphs date back 11,000 years.

The Journal notes:

"The whole area, extending from the site of the first Spanish settlements north of Española all the way into the San Luis Valley of Colorado is a human heartland ... wintering ground to the Utes in ancient times, then home to Spanish settlers and, later, homesteaders. Preserving this heritage is part of the plan for the monument: Supporters have made sure that traditional wildland uses, including hunting, firewood and piñon harvesting, will continue."

National Park Traveler says Rio Grande del Norte "is popular with kayakers, birders, anglers, hikers and equestrians."

-- Charles Young Buffalo Soldier National Monument, Ohio:

According to The Dayton Daily News:

"Col. Charles Young, a distinguished officer in the United States Army, was the third black to graduate from West Point and first to achieve a colonel ranking. He later became a professor of military science at Wilberforce University.

"Young's fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, made the site of his former home available to the federal government to establish a monument dedicated to him.

"Young served as an army superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks before the National Parks Service establishment in 1916."

-- San Juan Islands National Monument, Washington:

The official travel guide for this area is inviting, advertising, "Deep green forests. Sparkling blue waters. Silence broken only by birdsong."

Brian J. Cantwell, a blogger for The Seattle Times, is just as effusive, saying the San Juan Islands include:

" ... soul-soothing scenery such as San Juan Island's Cattle Point lighthouse, a lonely sentry at the windswept edge of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Lopez Island landmark of Chadwick Hill, where I've counted dozens of turkey vultures soaring on updrafts above gorgeous little Watmough Bight, a favorite saltwater hidey-hole for boaters with a hermit gene."

(If you're confused about the difference between a national park and a national monument, you might want to read this. In short, it takes an act of Congress to establish a national park, while the president can unilaterally create a national monument.)

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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