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September 21, 2022

Parks Chairman King Hears Testimony on Katahdin Woods and Waters Access Bill

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act would help more people access the Monument and Katahdin area businesses

Watch or download Senator King’s opening remarks HERE, and testimony from Steve Richardson HERE 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Chair of the Senate National Parks Subcommittee, today held a hearing on his bill to expand access to the Katahdin Woods and Waters (KWW) National Monument and bring more economic activity to the region. The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act, cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), would authorize the expansion of KWW by giving the National Park Service (NPS) permission to acquire land from willing donors or sellers that better connect the Monument to the Millinocket region and major roadways. View a map of the proposed parcels HERE.

During the hearing, Chairman King received testimony from Steve Richardson of Shin Pond – a prominent leader in the Katahdin region business community – on the benefits of the effort, its impact on Millinocket and the surrounding communities, and potential changes that could improve the bill.

Beginning the hearing, Chairman King gave an opening statement laying out the significant benefits his bill would bring to the Katahdin community.

“This bill will allow specific parcels to be added to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument from willing donors or sellers, improving access to the Monument from the south, and the Millinocket region. This new access will make it easier for visitors to enter the monument and will help towns like Millinocket and East Millinocket capture some of the economic opportunities from these visitors,” began National Parks Chairman King. “Visitors will benefit because many services they are looking for—restaurants, hotels, retail shops, and more—already exist to the south and are not as readily available to the north, where you currently enter the Monument.

“Land will only be added to the monument if willing landowners sell or donate their land. Additionally, we have included language to explicitly protect the continued access to many important uses, including snowmobiling, hunting, fishing, and foraging for fiddleheads,” added Senator King.

King continued by laying out some of the community feedback he’s received on the bill, and detailed how he is improving the bill through local engagement efforts.

“Since I put out this bill, I have heard from groups that have additional concerns I intend to address, specifically the use of ATVs and logging,” continued Senator King. “Local ATV clubs have been working for years to build a connector trail that crosses one of the parcels that is covered by this legislation. My intention is for this bill to maintain existing uses and access, and when we consider this bill in markup, I will make sure language is included to protect ATV access to this trail.”

“I’ve also heard concerns about making sure that log trucks can still travel safely and efficiently through these parcels. This is important because as we grow the recreation economy we also must make sure the traditional forest products sector continues to function unimpeded, and continue to promote a more diversified forest products sector in the region,” Senator King emphasized. “Currently logging trucks travel through the monument and the Park Service has worked with stakeholders in the region to make sure there is appropriate signage – and the on website it says, ‘Logging trucks always have the right of way.’ I am confident that we can make clarifications and amendments that will fully retain current access while improving safety and supporting the forest economy.”

After his opening statement, Senator King turned to testimony on the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act from Steve Richardson of Shin Pond who explained the significant economic boost KWW has brought the Katahdin area, and how the bill would expand on these successes.

“To me, this legislation is about the future. It's about making it possible for our kids to stay in the region and thus in Maine. Millinocket, a town south of the monument, was once home to the largest paper mill in the world. Families made their living in the woods and in the mills, and there were good jobs with benefits for anyone willing to work hard. But that changed, through no fault of the good men and women of the Katahdin region. Our communities have had to adapt to a new reality and take new approaches to our natural resources and our economy,” said Steve Richardson. “The monument is an important part of that transition. It is a beacon of hope, drawing new people, more visitors, and increased investment to our communities, all the while protecting a very special place for the enjoyment of generations to come.”

“This legislation you're considering is all about connecting all people with the Monument. The Monument is paying off for the communities in the region,” continued Mr. Richardson. “My son recognized that with the creation of the monument, our store had an opportunity to serve new types of customers. It was a risk, but he believed that once people learned about the beautiful history of our region and about the monument, they would come. He began to stock kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, camping gear and the like. I'm happy today to say that he was correct. The store has experienced minimum 20% year over year increases over the past six years. This is true for many businesses in the Katahdin region as more people have come to take advantage of what is offered and some visitors have luckily become full time residents.

“There is a need in our region to improve access to Katahdin Woods and Waters. The legislation from Senators King and Collins protects traditional recreational uses, allows the National Park Service to work with willing sellers, promotes greater investment in our region, and will help businesses and working people,” Mr. Richardson concluded. “I appreciate their support on this matter and ongoing support for the monument and hope the Senate will support this bill as well.”

During his questioning, National Parks Chairman King asked Michael Caldwell, Associate Director for Park Planning at the National Park Service, to ensure that any park expansion would respect local heritage industries like logging.

“Mr. Caldwell, I understand the importance that working forests have access to get their woods out. Can you talk about how the Park Service deals with this issue in other parts of the country to have the safe cohabitation, if you will, of visitors and the forest products industry?” asked Senator King.

“We honor all the agreements that we have, and I think you alluded to that earlier when you identified even the signs and the website. But we're authorized elsewhere in the country for commercial use, say, in places, parts of the Foothills Parkway and the Smokies or Delaware Water Gap, for example. The Park Service balances those needs with those commercial uses versus the needs of the visitors on those roads,” assured Associate Director Caldwell. “So it is something that we do elsewhere when we have those authorizations in places similar to Katahdin Woods.

Concluding the hearing, Steve Richardson highlighted the need for this effort now as Americans embrace the great outdoors.

“We have a nation now that has turned to the outdoors rather than sitting home and looking at the screen,” said Mr. Richardson. “That's going to help the National Parks all over this country. It has helped businesses because we have people every week. Last week I talked to a gentleman from West Virginia and another one from Texas. That was in northern Maine, and I'm sure they would have never been there if it weren't for the fact that they now are outdoors. They're trying to find places to go and thank goodness they're picking our area.”

The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument Access Act, cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), would authorize the expansion of KWW by giving the National Park Service (NPS) permission to acquire land from willing donors or sellers that better connect the Monument to the Millinocket region and major roadways. View a map of the proposed parcels HERE. The bill also includes provisions to allow the NPS to acquire buildings for Monument administration and visitor services outside of park boundaries. All expansions will occur with the cooperation of willing landowners, and will protect traditional hunting, fishing and snowmobile usage on the acquired property.

As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks and a lifelong advocate for conservation, Senator King has spent decades championing environmental stewardship and advocacy. Senator King was an active participant in discussions to ensure that the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would not be designated against the will of local citizens; after it became clear that the monument had widespread public support, continued Maine’s longstanding outdoor traditions, and yielded economic benefits to the region, he pushed against a 2017 Department of the Interior review that threatened to roll back the designation. Senator King also recently led the Great American Outdoors Act to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog in our national parks. For his continued leadership, Senator King was awarded the inaugural National Park Foundation “Hero” Award.

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