President Obama signs order creating North Woods national monument

Wassataquoik Stream converges with the East Branch of the Penobscot River in the area where Elliotsville Plantation Inc. has opened 40,000 acres to hunting and other recreational use. (Brian Feulner | BDN)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BDN/WGME) -- President Barack Obama signed into law the creation of a North Woods national monument in Maine on Wednesday, a day after landowner Roxanne Quimby transferred 87,563 acres to the federal government.

The announcement of the signing was released by the White House at 10:30 a.m. It is the 25th executive order Obama has issued to create a monument since 2011. The monument is the nation’s 151st since 1906, according to a National Park Service listing. Of the nation’s 58 national parks, 36 began as monuments, including Acadia National Park.

Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents, under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, can create monuments simply by writing an order. Officials running the monument’s neighbor, Baxter State Park, posted a notice on social media on Wednesday morning in anticipation of the decree.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with our new neighbor, the Department of the Interior. Baxter Park has 100 miles of boundary and we share this boundary with around a dozen different landowners,” the statement reads. “We seek to have a good working relationship with all our neighbors and we look forward to doing the same with our newest one.”

The board of directors for Elliotsville Plantation Inc. released the following statement in regards to a proclamation by President Obama:

“Our family would like to thank President Obama and the members of his administration for their hard work to safeguard America’s natural treasures and for their efforts to prepare the National Park Service for its next 100 years of success. This designation is a fitting tribute to the ‘Centennial of America’s Greatest Idea.’”

Elliotsville Plantation Inc. is a nonprofit foundation that donated more than 87,500 acres of land to create the new national monument. The foundation was established by entrepreneur and businesswoman Roxanne Quimby and her family.

Senator Angus King released the following statement in response to Obama’s designation of the North Woods and Waters National Monument, which said in part:

"I believe that the President’s proclamation, along with the binding commitments in the deeds conveying the land, address the essential elements of those conditions, and that, as a result, the benefits of the designation will far outweigh any detriment and – on balance – will be a significant benefit to Maine and the region. This conclusion is confirmed by the comments made by Secretary of the Interior Jewell shortly after the designation was announced, explicitly mentioning hiking, canoeing, ?fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing."

However, Governor Paul LePage fired back, condemning President Obama’s decision to sign into law the creation of a North Woods national monument. He issued a statement, which read in part:

“President Obama is once again taking unilateral action against the will of the people, this time the citizens of rural Maine. Despite this lack of support, the Quimby family used high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to go around the people of Maine and have President Obama use his authority to designate this area a National Monument. This once again demonstrates that rich, out-of-state liberals can force their unpopular agenda on the Maine people against their will.”

Gov. LePage continued:

“Quimby is already well known for preventing hunting, snowmobiling, ATVs, forestry and other traditional activities on her land, and a National Monument will most likely restrict these uses even more. It is my understanding that for those few acres where hunting would be allowed, Quimby has attempted to recreate the restrictions found in the bear baiting referendum that the Maine people roundly rejected as recently as 2014. If average Mainers don’t realize by now that the political system is rigged against them by wealthy, self-serving liberals from away, this is a serious wake-up call. The fix has been in all along.”

Located east of Baxter, the monument is expected to increase employment in the Katahdin region, where two paper mills have shuttered since 2008. The closures represent a direct loss of approximately 430 manufacturing jobs. The last mill, in East Millinocket, closed in 2014.

Quimby’s dream, as she said when she launched her campaign in 2011, was to achieve a kind of parity with Gov. Percival Baxter by donating land to the National Park Service in 2016 — her gift to the nation that helped make her a millionaire. She began buying land in 2001.

Penobscot County Registry of Deeds officials confirmed on Tuesday the 13 deeds passing 87,563 acres from Quimby’s company, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., to what was listed simply as “The United States of America.”

The total acreage is nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.