In the nine months since the official designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Lucas St. Clair said the emotional climate in that part of the state has changed quite a bit.
St. Clair, who oversaw the monument formation effort on behalf of his mother, landowner Roxanne Quimby, said the reaction by local residents has been welcome.
“I’ve been blown away,” St. Clair said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of controversy, and we fought a lot of battles with folks on all different sides of this. Some worried about too many people coming, and some people thought nobody was going to come. Some people thought it was going to ruin the forest products industry, and other people thought it was going to be the greatest thing to ever happen to the region.”
The arguments about the proposed national monument were divisive, with people on both sides of the issue often living in the same household, he said.
“The thing that has happened since the designation — and this is the thing that I have such respect for, for the people of the region — yeah, it was a fight. But the fight’s over, and the reality is now we’ve got something that we can try to take advantage of.”
It didn’t take long for people in the Katahdin region to reach out to St. Clair after the official designation was made by President Barack Obama in August.
Those people delivered a forceful message to St. Clair: You won. Now get to work.
“A lot of people that were opposed to the national monument called me immediately after the monument was established and said, ‘Alright. You said this was going to be a good thing for our region, so you’d better stick with it. You’d better stay and help and make sure that we’re actually able to capitalize on the things we want to capitalize on,” St. Clair said. “‘And that hunting is still allowed, and fishing is still allowed, and snowmobiling is still allowed.’”
St. Clair will talk about the monument and its future at the next installment of the BDN’s Dirigo Speaks series, which will be held Wednesday, June 7. The program will be held at the Bangor Public Library atrium at 6 p.m., and potential questions from BDN readers and attendees are being solicited. Information about question submissions can be found at the end of this story.
The Dirigo Speaks session will provide the chance for St. Clair to have a broad conversation about the monument and talk a bit about what’s happening on the monument lands.
“A lot of [our focus] is getting infrastructure in place,” St. Clair said. “We have trail crews that are going to be working this summer and fall, maintaining the trails that we have and building new trails. [We’ll be] keeping up on the general maintenance of the roads. As you know, they’re dirt roads in a relatively remote place. There’s going to be increased traffic, so keeping up with the road maintenance is going to be a high priority.”
St. Clair said that Elliotsville Plantation Inc., through a $20 million endowment, is funding much of the infrastructure work and is in close contact with the National Park Service while identifying projects to target.
“We’ve also started a Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and that friends group is working to promote the park and do projects,” St. Clair said. “Our first project is going to be [focused] on signage on the loop road, and interpretive sites along the loop road.”
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has announced plans to review many national monuments, and some fear that Katahdin Woods and Waters could have its status as a monument stripped. Maine Gov. Paul LePage also has announced that while the monument is being reviewed, he won’t allow the placement of tourist information signs about the monument to be placed on state roadways.
Despite those recent challenges, St. Clair is looking forward and is encouraged by what he’s seeing.
“[There is] a pretty common theme that’s emerged after the past several months of people starting to see the benefits. And it didn’t take long for people to start showing up,” St. Clair said.
Now that he’s not spending most of his time trying to convince people to support a national monument designation, he’s able to focus on the bigger picture and the role the monument will play in creating a potentially rejuvenated region.
“I really want to start thinking about the rural economy of northern Maine and how the Katahdin region is a microcosm for that,” St. Clair said.
If you have questions that you’d like to pose to Lucas St. Clair during the June 7 Dirigo Speaks presentation, please submit them to John Holyoke via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To inquire about free tickets to the event, contact Kelly Donnelly at email@example.com.