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Slayton: New National Monument

History’s repeating itself up in northern Maine in a way that’s irritated some interests, but that should please every lover of wild lands and deep woods.

Just last month, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, President Barack Obama created a new national monument there. It’s big — nearly 90,000 acres in size — and it’s called the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument because of its location along the eastern border of Baxter State Park, which encompasses the incomparable Mount Katahdin plus a vast rectangle of Maine’s wildest northern woods.

The land for the new national monument is a broad swath of wilderness that includes several rugged mountains, wild lakes and forest along the East Branch of the Penobscot River. It was donated by philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, founder of Burt’s Bees. Her foundation has also donated $20 million to establish and maintain the park and has promised to donate another $20 million for its continuing upkeep.

For the past several decades, Quimby’s been buying land and advocating vigorously for for creating a national park in northern Maine. Although favored by a majority of Maine voters, the idea stalled because of opposition from the Maine timber industry, the state’s conservative Republican governor, Paul LePage, and others.

And that’s where I see history repeating itself.

Because in 1919, then-Governor Percival Baxter proposed that the Maine Legislature protect Mount Katahdin in a “forever wild” state park. But the legislature, under pressure from the timber industry, refused Baxter’s idea several times.

So, like Roxanne Quimby, Percival Baxter began buying up the land himself, parcel by parcel, using his family’s substantial fortune. Also like Quimby, Baxter had to endure a substantial amount of ridicule and opposition from the timber industry and those supporting it.
But most of Maine’s citizenry supported Baxter and appreciated the enormous gift he gave them. Today Baxter State Park encompasses more than 200,000 acres of the finest un-spoiled wilderness in New England, which will now be augmented and enhanced by the new National Monument.

Several of America’s most iconic national parks, including Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, began life as national monuments, and some of them were controversial at first. But now we as a nation know that those lands, which belong to all Americans, are a national treasure of incomparable value.

My guess is that in time, Roxanne Quimby’s gift to the people of Maine and the nation will be recognized as a similar treasure, one that we can all share.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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