Friday, July 8, is the official centennial of the preservation of Acadia National Park. One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson accepted a gift of 5,000 acres along the Maine coast to create Sieur de Monts National Monument. It was the first federal preserve made up entirely of donated land.
“Saved to future generations as it has been to us, in the wild primeval beauty of the nature it exhibits, of ancient rocks and still more ancient sea, with infinite detail of life and landscape interest between, the spirit and mind of man will surely find in it in the years and centuries to come an inspiration and a means of growth as essential to them ever and anon as are fresh air and sunshine to the body,” George B. Dorr said of the land he helped preserve. He also served as the park’s first superintendent.
In 1919, the monument became a national park and in 1929 it was renamed Acadia National Park. A century after its initial conservation, Acadia ranks among the top 10 most visited national parks in the United States. Last year, the park drew nearly 3 million visitors, the most in two decades. The park contributed $305 million to the local economy in 2015, according to federal officials. That spending supported 3,878 jobs.
The financial and visitation numbers are expected to be higher this year as the National Park Service also celebrates its centennial. Travel agents report increased interest in trips to visit national parks this summer.
Wallace Stegner, a writer and historian, called national parks “the best idea we ever had.”
“Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst,” he said.
There is now a rare opportunity to create a second national monument in Maine. Like the well-heeled benefactors of Acadia, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the foundation created by Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, has proposed to donate more than 87,000 acres of land near Baxter State Park to the federal government. It will accompany that donation with a $40 million endowment.
President Barack Obama is considering designating the land a national monument. He should.
Public support for a Maine woods national monument is high. At a public hearing following a congressional field hearing in East Millinocket organized to highlight opposition to the plan, supporters outnumbered opponents four to one. And although voters in three communities have voted against creation of a national park, opinion polls have found strong support, statewide and in the rural 2nd Congressional District.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin expressed concerns about the proposal late last year. Those concerns were largely addressed by National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis when he visited Maine in May.
And, in an important part of the rebuilding of the Katahdin region’s economy, the trio, along with Rep. Chellie Pingree, who supports the creation of a monument or park, secured help from the Department of Commerce to work with the forest products industry to transition to new products and processes in the wake of mill closures in the area. The Economic Development Assessment Team also will help identify ways to diversify the region’s economy. Tourism, no doubt, will be part of that work. A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston reiterated that recreation and hospitality play a growing role in the economic future of rural communities in the northern forest.
A national monument or park in Maine’s woods won’t draw as many visitors and dollars as Acadia, but it can play an important role in the remaking of the Katahdin region and these lands would be a welcome addition to the National Park Service portfolio. The landscape isn’t much different today from when Henry David Thoreau, President Theodore Roosevelt and the Penobscot Indians first found themselves in awe because of its beauty and power.
It would be fitting to celebrate Acadia’s centennial by preserving a small piece of Maine’s famed North Woods.