December 17, 2017
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The North Woods monument land played a pivotal role in the history of conservation

By Donna Sewall Davidge, Special to the BDN
Updated:
George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

As a small-business owner, the economic momentum being created by Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is very important to me. But, as an American, I also appreciate the monument’s protection and promotion of my region’s historic and cultural context and the stories of our contributions to the nation and the world.

I own and operate the Sewall House, a yoga retreat in Island Falls. While our family home has not always offered yoga, it has always offered a welcoming place to rest and rejuvenate. Visitors have been profoundly affected by our home, family, community, region and the beautiful landscape that defines northern Maine. Some of those people, in turn, had a profound effect on the American landscape. Teddy Roosevelt was just such a person.

Roosevelt was 17 when he first visited the Katahdin region and met Bill Sewall, son of Levi Sewall who established Island Falls. Bill Sewall was initially unimpressed by the young Roosevelt who was taken with fits of asthma and looked as though he were unable to stand much physical activity, a liability in the North Woods in the 1870s. Roosevelt, however, showed no reservation in his admiration for the people of northern Maine and the beauty of the region to which he was drawn multiple times.

[Teddy Roosevelt would have had high hopes for North Woods monument]

During his second trip in the winter of 1879, Roosevelt wrote to his mother, “I have never seen a grander or more beautiful sight than the northern woods in winter.” This squares well with the words of Henry David Thoreau who had visited the Katahdin region years earlier. Although Thoreau saw the region through a very different lens than Roosevelt, he nevertheless arrived at a similar conclusion, writing that “some hours only of travel in this direction will carry the curious to the verge of a primitive forest, more interesting, perhaps, on all accounts, than they would reach by going a thousand miles westward.”

While in the North Woods, Roosevelt summited Katahdin, hunted, fished and hiked. He was also introduced to the realities of lumber camps in the late 1800s. He saw first-hand where the lumber came from that built the railroads, ships and great cities of the United States.

Roosevelt and Sewall became lifelong friends. Back then, the internet was the postal service, and email was handwritten letters. They exchanged many letters and spent a lot of time together. Roosevelt later asked Sewall to run his Elkhorn Ranch in North Dakota, and Sewall often offered solicited advice to Roosevelt throughout his presidency and beyond.

Roosevelt is rightly seen as a father of conservation in American history. During his presidency, he advocated tirelessly for the conservation of America’s most beautiful and historically important places. He used the Antiquities Act and his other presidential authority to protect approximately 230 million acres of public land. President Roosevelt created 18 national monuments, 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves and five national parks. Roosevelt’s recognition of the importance of unspoiled wilderness began on the very land now recognized as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

[The Katahdin region can thrive alongside the monument — if we allow it]

National monuments, like Katahdin Woods and Waters, are the storytellers of our nation. They tell our regional and national stories to each of us and the world. Storytellers need audiences. National monuments, similar to national parks, draw in those audiences. That’s already happening in the Katahdin region, and the monument was established less than a year ago. Yes, more people are visiting our towns. Businesses are fielding more calls, seeing more traffic, hiring and expanding to meet that need and interest. I echo the words of other business owners in the region who have already experienced a positive economic impact from the monument.

I spoke to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a self-proclaimed Teddy Roosevelt conservative, during his visit to the monument back in June about this perfect melding of history, beauty and economic momentum. I sincerely hope he listened, as I hope he listens to the majority of Mainers who supported the monument before its designation, and the even larger number who support it now. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and Rep. Chellie Pingree have all come out against any attempt to harm the monument. Rep. Bruce Poliquin should do the same for the good of the businesses, communities and history in the Katahdin region.

Donna Sewall Davidge is the owner of Sewall House, a yoga retreat in Island Falls.

 


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