Maine’s national monument will have an operating budget of about $400,000 — its highest yet — if Congress gives approval, officials said Thursday.
The Department of the Interior’s proposed budget for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would be a $200,000 increase over the $180,000 given the year before, according to U.S. Sen. Angus King’s office.
The increased allocation is a milestone of sorts for the 87,564-acre site east of Baxter State Park. The once intense opposition to the monument has gradually abated since then-President Barack Obama designated it with an executive order in August 2016. The monument was once opposed by the Legislature, among others, and Gov. Paul LePage went so far as to deny it road signs on Interstate 95, though he later relented.
King mentioned the possible increase to a Katahdin region audience during a visit to the area about two weeks ago. The proposal is for the federal 2019 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.
Andrew Bossie, executive director of the volunteer group Friends of Katahdin Woods & Waters, said he was thrilled with the proposal but cautioned that it is a long way from being approved as part of the federal government budget.
“All signs are pointing to the right direction here. Having increased funds for the operating budget will only add to the visitor experience at the monument and, as a result, bring needed economic activity to the region,” Bossie said Thursday.
The money would allow monument Superintendent Tim Hudson to hire more people from within the National Park Service, Hudson said. Hudson is the only full-timer working at the monument, Bossie said.
“For 87,000 acres, that’s not a lot,” Bossie said.
Last year’s federal budget was the first that allocated money, $180,000, to Katahdin Woods and Waters. The salary paid to Hudson and a half-dozen park service part-timers that have rotated through the monument every few months have been paid out of budgets from other national parks or monuments, Hudson said.
The $400,000 would “give us some continuity. Hopefully it allows us to start running more programs,” Hudson said.
The bulk of the money Hudson has used to grade roads, buy equipment or handle other monument needs — between $300,000 and $400,000 — has come from a private source, a nonprofit foundation established by Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby, Hudson said.
“Without it, we would have had very few services and probably would have been hard pressed to staff visitor centers and contact stations very much,” Hudson said.
The $400,000 appropriation is a miniscule part of a $7.57 billion Department of Interior budget under review.
The national park system covers 85 million acres and is composed of 417 sites. These include 129 historical parks or sites, 87 national monuments, 59 national parks, 30 national memorials, 25 battlefields or military parks and 87 otherwise designated national park units.
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