Grand Pitch on the East Branch of the Penobscot River borders the new national monument. (Photo by C. Parrish) and (inset) Lucas St. Clair
Grand Pitch on the East Branch of the Penobscot River borders the new national monument. (Photo by C. Parrish) and (inset) Lucas St. Clair
A new citizen group officially formed last week to help develop and protect the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument located just east of Baxter State Park. 

The Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, a nonprofit group, will work with the National Park Service to help raise money to provide education programs and fund specific projects at the new 87,500-acre park that was designated as a national monument by President Obama last August. The forested park land was a gift from philanthropist and Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, who also gave $20 million from her family foundation to help develop the national monument. 

Quimby has pledged to raise an additional $20 million to help develop the site as a recreation and destination conservation area.

Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, is the president of the newly formed Friends group. Funding provided through Friends groups is not meant to replace federal funding for essential services and maintenance at parks and on other public lands, but has become increasingly important in funding specific projects as federal recreation budgets have stagnated in recent decades. 

Friends groups typically work with specific national wildlife refuges, national parks, and other federal and state public lands to assist with education programming, trail work, and other projects that enhance visitor experiences while protecting conservation lands.

In Maine, Friends of Acadia is one of the most active groups of its kind in the country. It raises millions of dollars to fund special projects, trail work, pay for staff and fund the park’s public bus system, which is free to all users. 

The commitment of Friends groups varies widely, however. The Friends of Maine State Parks, for example, is a relatively inactive volunteer group that stays away from controversy, whereas the Friends of Bigelow is an on-call advocacy group that only becomes active when members become concerned over state management of the Bigelow Mountains Public Reserve Lands.

The announcement of the formation of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters comes two weeks after Governor Paul LePage appealed to President Donald Trump to reverse the national monument designation. 

Trump has pledged to undo two regulations for every new regulation put in place during his administration. While some Obama-era regulations can be easily overturned by presidential order, it is no easy thing to undo a national monument designation. 

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was formed using the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was signed into law during the Teddy Roosevelt administration. The Antiquities Act has never successfully been challenged in court.  

St. Clair noted that LePage quoted Teddy Roosevelt in his letter to Trump seeking dissolution of the national monument. Roosevelt was a champion of national parks and public lands, was the first to use the 1906 law to establish Devils Tower, a national monument in Wyoming, and used it 18 times during his presidency — including to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument, which Congress later voted to turn into a national park.

“I think the governor is tone-deaf to quote Theodore Roosevelt in the letter and then ask to rescind the national monument designation in the next paragraph,” said St. Clair.

St. Clair said trying to untie the national monument designation would be very difficult for the federal government to do. If the effort were successful, it would also mean losing the $40 million Quimby pledged to support its development.

Another option to starve the national monument of federal funding for operating expenses through the federal budget process would lead to other complications, since under the deeds the government has a legal obligation to maintain the roads and rights-of-way on the property.

If the government was unable to pay for maintenance, it would not be meeting a legal obligation, according to St. Clair — a situation that would leave the government legally vulnerable.