SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - 2016 has been a big year for land conservation in Maine, with the Penobscot River Restoration Project and of course, the designation of a new national monument in the Katahdin Woods region.
Tonight, at the Natural Resources Council of Maine's annual Conservation Leadership Awards in South Portland - the people that made that monument happen were recognized.
“That the president recognized this swath of northern Maine as one of the crowned jewels of our country. That's as exciting as it gets,” said Lucas St. Clair, son of Roxanne Quimby, who donated the 87,000-plus acres of land to the federal government.
Lucas St. Clair, his mother Roxanne Quimby, and four Katahdin leaders received Conservation Leadership awards Wednesday night for their countless years dedicated to creating a Katahdin Waters and Woods National Monument.
The award recipients recognized that it took an army to finally achieve their goals. The Executive Director of the NRCM, Lisa Pohlmann, asked for anyone who advocated for the monument to raise a hand. Almost every person in the room had a hand up.
“They knew that something needed to happen in these struggling mill towns, and they've been dedicated and have brought lots and lots of people along with them,” said Pohlmann. “So there really have been scores of supporters. But it's true, there have been some opponents along the way.”
In a lot of ways, the Leadership Awards felt more like a celebration - of decades of work that finally put the Katahdin Woods region on the national map.
A large push for the monument has been made in recent years because of the decrease in jobs and property value in the region after several mill closures.
“I think it's going to be the start of a really positive change in the region,” said Millinocket business owner and award recipient Matthew Polstein. “It will help grow our economy and bring some hope back to an area that has really struggled to find hope in recent years.”
On August 24, President Obama designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Though the National Park Service's work is only beginning, tourism in the area has already risen.
“In a lot of ways, people didn't realize how beautiful of a place they were in,” said St. Clair.
And to have people come visit from outside and kind of validate that beauty is going to be really cool.”
The monument didn't come easily to the area - hundreds have opposed it over the years, including Governor LePage.
The National Park Service is starting a series of listening sessions, to try and hear the concerns and comments of the locals - starting Thursday night.
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