New England could finally get its second national park, courtesy of support from the unlikeliest source — the Trump administration.
Give credit where it’s due: Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, said during a recent visit to Maine that he could support turning a beautiful new national monument in northern Maine, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, into a full-fledged national park.
The statement was all the more surprising because it came amid talk that the Trump administration may shut or scale back other national monuments created by President Barack Obama, including the new Bear Ears National Monument in Utah, which Zinke has recommended shrinking.
At least in the case of Katahdin, though, Zinke seems to have no desire to retreat. He acknowledged during his Maine visit that the land was in federal hands to stay, and said that if the state’s congressional delegation supported turning it into a national park, he could back the idea.
Obama designated the area a national monument last year, after years of bickering over the land’s future. Once owned by timber companies, the rugged, 87,000-acre parcel abuts Baxter State Park, home of the iconic Mount Katahdin. It was purchased by a philanthropist, Roxanne Quimby, who donated the land to the federal government. The transfer rankled some Maine residents, though, who feared it would cut off access for snowmobilers and foreclose the possibility of a timber revival.
Although creating the monument was a great first step, a real national park has long been the dream of Quimby and her supporters — a vision that seems to be winning more support from skeptical Mainers. Creating the park would open up new recreational opportunities, spur tourism in a depressed region, and help even out the regional inequity in a parks system dominated by Western landmarks. The formal difference between a monument and a park is minimal, but visits often rise when monuments are converted into parks.
A national park requires Congressional approval, and some Maine legislators remain opposed to the idea. But as Zinke put it during his visit, federal ownership of the land is now settled. Why not make the most of it?