About $40 million in private funds earmarked for the newly created Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would “go away” if President-elect Donald Trump or Congress abolishes it, Lucas St. Clair said Tuesday.
St. Clair, son of Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, said he doesn’t think it will be abolished.
In his view, abolition would violate the spirit of the pact that the United States made with the Quimby family in accepting its donation of 87,563 acres. Counting the cost of the land, a $20 million endowment and an additional $20 million in fundraising Quimby has promised, the gift is worth $100 million, according to the National Park Foundation.
The endowment “could only go to support a national park unit, and it’s been earmarked for a unit. Our fundraising efforts would stop,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair said he wasn’t making a threat, rather he was responding to a hypothetical situation that has at least some chance of becoming reality. Republicans dominate the incoming U.S. Senate and House, and a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing Trump to abolish national monuments created by President Barack Obama.
Such a move would be historically unprecedented and overturn the opinion of at least one attorney general. Homer Cummings told President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 that he could not abolish the Castle Pinckney National Monument because the American Antiquities Act of 1906 only grants presidents the right to create monuments, not to abolish them. Congress can, however, abolish monuments or redirect their management to other federal agencies.
St. Clair said he is unaware of any legal restraints imposed by his family that would prevent a shift of monument management from the National Park Service to another federal agency or the state of Maine.
Doing so would, however, end what is becoming a powerful economic engine for northern Maine and “in itself would make very little sense,” St. Clair said. “That endowment is already being used” to fund monument expenses.
“It is now federal land. We turned the deeds over to the federal government. From my understanding, Congress can change who administers the land. There are no special restrictions on it,” St. Clair said. “Our intention as donors was to have it as a national park unit, so that would be going against the donor’s intention, but there’s nothing that prevents” it.
More than $100,000 of the endowment has been used to improve roads and bridges to the 87,563-acre parcel east of Baxter State Park, St. Clair said.
Monument Superintendent Tim Hudson said he would have a precise amount of funding spent to improve the monument’s loop and north roads within a few months.
Representatives for U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have declined to respond to requests for comment about the monument since Trump’s election. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s spokesman said it was too soon to comment. The three representatives expressed “serious reservations” about a monument in November 2015.
When asked for his thoughts on the monument, a spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage said only that he was busy preparing the state’s biennial budget.
The Quimby family, which first began buying land east of Baxter State Park about 16 years ago, has long sought to have that area become a national park or monument. The National Park Service is an excellent environmental steward and its units enjoy unrivaled international acclaim — and advertising — that help draw many tourists, family members have said.
The park service certified more than 307 million visitors to its 372 holdings nationwide, including monuments, in 2015. That’s a 4.9 percent increase over 2014 and the previous record of 292.8 million recreation visits. The service reported visitor and use increases last year in most categories.
Acadia National Park had an estimated 2.81 million visits in 2015, marking increases in each of the previous two years.
Park proponents say the monument would have a positive impact on the Katahdin region if it drew just 1 percent of the annual traffic Acadia gets, which would be 28,100 visitors.
According to a the last traffic count at the monument on Nov. 14, it drew 1,762 vehicles for the year, including 1,215 after Obama issued the executive order creating the monument in August, Hudson said.
The yearly vehicle count exceeds the 2010 census estimates of the populations of East Millinocket, 1,723 people; Medway, 1,349; Patten, 1,017; Sherman, 848; and Mount Chase, 201 people. The largest town in the Katahdin region, Millinocket, had a population of 4,506 residents, according to the 2010 census.
The vehicle count applies only to Loop Road traffic, not to hikers or vehicles that access the monument lands from the road to Baxter State Park or logging roads.
The loop closed for the winter on Nov. 14, Hudson said.
Hudson said he was encouraged by the vehicle count. The monument has not yet been part of any major park service or state advertising campaigns, although some local business websites, and nps.gov, list it. Yet the vehicle counter during Columbus Day week, the height of leaf peeping season, counted 246 vehicles, most coming on the weekend of Oct. 8-9, he said.
“That’s with no signs on the highway [Interstate 95] or anything else,” Hudson said. “I think if we get some signs up and we get to be better known, we will at least continue at the pace [of growth] that we are at. But that’s pure conjecture.”
Quimby has been a member of the The National Park Foundation’s board of directors since 2011. Chartered by Congress in 1967, the foundation is the official charitable partner of the park service and is dedicated to preserving park service units. Her term ends next year.
St. Clair said he doubts that the monument would be abolished by Trump. He and foundation members are developing a fundraising plan that they hope to implement next year, he said.
“The thing that I find interesting, most appealing,” St. Clair said, “is that no one [president] has ever done it, because why would you?
“There are bigger issues that our country is faced with right now,” he added. “I can’t imagine withdrawing an economic stimulator for rural Maine makes any kind kind of sense for any incoming administration.”