Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia one soggy morning I encountered a thru-hiker who started on the trail in Georgia months ago and is heading up to the northern end of the Trail in Mount Katahdin, 1,200 miles away, in Baxter State Park. A spectacular wilderness area in Northern Maine that is home to lynx, loons, moose and bear, the 200,000 acre Baxter State Park is remote and pristine. Adjacent to Baxter State Park is almost 90,000 acres of privately owned magnificent forest, ponds and bogs -- lands that could soon be turned over to the public, and protected as a companion to the popular Acadia National Park. Lately, this dream is getting closer to reality and a proposal has emerged to create a new Maine Woods National Monument within the National Park system. What a fitting gift that would be to America this year as we celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service. The proposal would convey 87,500 acres to the National Park Service and establish an endowment to provide long term funding for the maintenance and operations of the new national monument. These new public lands would bring sorely needed tourism dollars to an area where small towns struggle as logging companies pull out of the area.
A few nights ago I joined local Sierra Club activists at a public meeting in Bangor, Maine. The meeting was co-hosted by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and Senator Angus King to receive public input about the proposed Maine Woods National Monument. Over 1,300 people showed up and welcomed the Senator and Director with a standing ovation. The energy in the auditorium was electric. Mainers from all over the state spoke publicly about their deep connection to the proposed monument area, their desire for economic recovery and their gratitude for such an opportunity. Director Jarvis was eloquent in expressing how adding these wild lands east of Mount Katahdin to the National Park System will contribute a unique landscape and ecosystem to our public lands heritage. He committed to preserving the recreational activities and outdoor traditions of the surrounding communities. With Acadia National Park just a two hour drive away, putting this new national monument on the map will most assuredly attract thousands of park visitors to the area, and help revitalize local economies suffering from the collapse of the timber and paper mills. New national monuments all over the country DO result in bringing new people and new economic benefits to local communities. (A recent study found that national monuments designated by President Obama have generated $156 million annually for nearby communities, including $58 million in labor income and more than 1,800 jobs.)
The most hopeful and inspiring moment at the hearing was when the last speaker stepped to the microphone, a 9-year-old Mainer girl. She spoke with clarity of mind and spirit and said that she loves visiting the area that would be protected, to see the birds and other wildlife and to walk amongst the pines and flowers. She really wants to share that joyous experience with others. Join her and send your message to President Obama to add this beautiful northern woods treasure to our growing conservation legacy of new national monuments.