Maine’s national monument is in the parks system to stay, the acting U.S. secretary of the interior said Thursday.
Under questioning from Maine Sen. Angus King during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of the interior, David Bernhardt allayed concerns about the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’s status.
“You’re rock solid. You’re rock solid today,” Berhhardt told King. “The National Park Service is there. You are part of the park service.”
Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing took place nearly two weeks after a visit to Maine during which he discussed the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and Acadia National Park’s maintenance backlog with King and others.
Bernhardt had two meetings over 2½ hours at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife building in Bangor. A comprehensive plan for the monument now being developed was one topic of discussion, as was the final version of an Acadia transportation plan that the park released Monday. Bernhardt also visited Acadia during his trip to Maine.
The swamp-mask wearer visible in the background as Bernhardt answered questions from King was one of two mask-clad protesters who attended the hearing, according to USA Today. At least one was later escorted out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing after staging a silent protest for nearly two hours, The Hill reported.
Bernhardt has served as acting secretary since Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke departed the administration nearly two months ago under an ethics cloud. President Donald Trump nominated Bernhardt to the position permanently in early February.
King sought assurances about the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument’s status after the monument was included on a list of national monuments that might be scaled back or eliminated early in the Trump administration.
In addition to Bernhardt’s “rock solid” comment, another possible assurance is the increase in the monument’s budget in Trump’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year and the development of more infrastructure for the monument, from trails to road signs.
A $120,000 project to build a trail of network will continue this summer, said Tim Hudson, the monument’s superintendent. That work will be funded half by the National Park Service Centennial Challenge and half by the National Park Foundation endowment fund.
Also coming this summer: The installation of 22 road signs along Interstate 95 and local roads in Medway, Patten and Sherman. Those signs were delayed as former Gov. Paul LePage objected to their installation before the conclusion of the Trump administration’s national monument review, which ended with no recommendation that the Katahdin monument be eliminated or scaled back.
The concrete bases for the eleven 22-by-8-foot highway signs are being designed now, and Hudson said he expects to bid out the installation work for the other 11 within a few weeks.
Two concrete-vault outdoor toilets will be installed near the monument’s Penobscot River boundary line and a third at the Wassataquoik Stream spur off the monument’s Loop Road. A fourth went in at the monument’s north entrance road this winter, Hudson said.
“We have seen evidence that a toilet is necessary,” Hudson said.
The budget increase will also allow the hiring of another permanent federal park ranger to complement Hudson, he said.
Hudson said the monument will be open by Memorial Day weekend. The north road, which also goes to Baxter State Park, will likely open in mid-April, with the Loop Road and the rest of the monument opening by the holiday weekend.
Both dates are estimates based on typical snow melt, Hudson said.