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Updated: May 9, 2024

National Park Service seeks up to 2,500 acres for entry to Katahdin monument

aerial view of woods, hill and stream Photo / COURTESY, MARK PICARD Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was created in 2016 with the donation of 87,500 acres to the U.S.

Proposed federal legislation would allow the National Park Service to acquire up to 2,465 acres from willing landowners to improve transportation in and out from Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, according to a spokesperson with the office of U.S. Sen. Angus King.

The request is significantly reduced from the 42,000 acres requested in 2022, in a bill cosponsored at that time by King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine. 

King, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, reintroduced the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act with the change.

The change was made at the request of the Trust for Public Land, which owns the majority of the potential addition, according to a recent statement from King’s office.

Headquartered in San Francisco with a Maine office in Portland, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit that works with communities to create parks and protect public land. 

Southern entrance

The goal of the proposed legislation is to provide southern access points to the monument by giving the National Park Service permission to acquire land from willing donors or sellers, either in fees or as an easement.

Should the service exercise its new acquisition authority, it would then use that land to better connect the monument to the Millinocket region and major roadways. The additional access would only occur with willing landowners and the bill expressly forbids the use of eminent domain. 

If approved, the bill would create a southern entrance that brings traffic through Millinocket, which could in turn benefit the town’s small businesses, said Bruce McLean, a real estate agent with North Woods Real Estate.

Existing access roads — along a southeasterly portion and a northern portion of the monument — bypass Millinocket.

Matt Polstein, owner and operator of the New England Outdoor Center, said the legislation would help small businesses benefit more from the increased visitation the area is already seeing because of the monument.  

“This connection will help us to continue to expand the regions outdoor recreation economy by allowing for improved access for both residents and visitors,” said Polstein.

Tourism economy

Katahdin Woods and Waters was established by presidential proclamation in 2016. That capped more than a decade of public and political debate about federal protection of the land, which was valued at $60 million and donated by Burt’s Bees co-founder and philanthropist Roxanne Quimby.

In 2020, the 87,500-acre tract, on the eastern border of Baxter State Park, was designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary — one of only a dozen in the world, and the only sanctuary in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River.

Additional features include 17 miles of scenic loop road, 30 miles of hiking on the International Appalachian Trail and other short- and medium-length hikes, 15 campsites and lean-tos, three rivers offering paddling, riverside camping and fishing, miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and 34 square miles open to hunting and snowmobiling in certain parcels.

The monument, located in present and traditional homeland of the Penobscot Nation, has attracted about 40,000 visitors per year since 2020, according to National Park Service data.

Last year, Friends of Katahdin Woods & Waters launched a $35 million fundraising campaign to fund a Wabanaki-led  visitor center called Tekαkαpimək Contact Station and to support a new 3.6-mile access road to the site, an eastern lookout, a network of accessible paths and access routes, and state-of-the-art off-grid sustainability features.

As of February, Friends had raised nearly $30 million through over 200 donors. A grand opening for Tekαkαpimək will be Aug. 17. 

King said that additional access roadways would make it easier for more people to visit. 

“The additional access roadways would also bring visitors closer to the heart of the Millinocket community and further expand the Katahdin region’s tourism economy,” King said. While not always easy, modernizing infrastructure in a thoughtful way will support the future of the monument and Maine’s outdoor recreational heritage.”

Other bill provisions

  • Allow the National Park Service to acquire buildings for monument administration and visitor services outside of park boundaries.   
  • Protect traditional hunting, fishing, collection of fiddleheads and outdoor recreation activity on the acquired property.
  • Protect existing access rights and right of ways for the forestry sector.
  • Establish a public safety framework ensuring safe interactions between visitors and timber operations in the region.

Chief Kirk Francis said the Penobscot Nation approves of the proposal because it supports an additional plan by the Trust for Public Land to transfer adjacent land to the Penobscot Nation as a working forest.

“We are looking forward to the opportunities that will be provided by caring for lands adjacent to and potentially within the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument under the general agreement, as well as putting tribal land management front and center as visitors enter the monument at both ends,” said Francis.

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