STACYVILLE, Maine (AP) — In a rural corner of Maine that’s so remote even Mainers call it “the willy-wags,” there’s a new place for camping, hiking and birding. But it comes with a dash of political intrigue.
Maine’s new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is now welcoming guests for its first full summer as a monument. The monument was designated by President Barack Obama late last summer in a move that has caused controversy for almost a year.
But it’s now open to the public, and it’s more than 87,000 acres (35,000 hectares) of forested wilderness in far northern Maine. The land is home to bears, moose, eagles and breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, the highest peak in the state.
Much of the site remains undeveloped, and a visit is a rustic experience. Here’s a guide to what awaits at Katahdin Woods and Waters, and what the future might have in store.
The monument is a parcel of mountains, rivers and dense forest that is adjacent to Baxter State Park, the home of Mount Katahdin. It’s an addition to a landscape that has beckoned adventurers and wilderness lovers since long before Henry David Thoreau famously tried to climb Mount Katahdin in 1846.
The site is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) up the road from Millinocket, a former mill town of about 4,500 people that serves as a base of operations for many northern Maine tourists. Millinocket has hotels, gas, grocery stores and other worldly amenities that are tough to find in the Maine wilderness.
Guides and outfitters are available for hire in the area and present a popular way to get help touring the monument, Baxter State Park and Maine’s North Woods.
HIKING AND GETTING OUTDOORS
Infrastructure on the monument grounds is under development, but there are some hiking trails already established. Trailheads can lead hikers on a multitude of short and long hikes on Katahdin Loop Road and Messer Pond Road.
The National Park Service recommends getting to know Katahdin Woods and Waters with a drive around Katahdin Loop Road first. It’s a 17-mile (27-kilometer) loop that provides access to trailheads. Go slowly and watch for moose and logging trucks; the drive should take about an hour and a half.
Canoeing and kayaking are also possible, as are fishing and mountain biking. In the winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing will take hold. Whatever you do, if you do it in the summer, bring bug spray and be on the lookout for ticks.
Campsites are available in the form of lean-to shelters and huts. They are currently free, and you get what you pay for. The park service has said plans are in the works that could include more developed campsites, but for now, things are rustic.
The park service isn’t allowing camping in non-designated areas at the moment, and campsites and shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Katahdin area is also well regarded by bird lovers as a birding hotspot, with species ranging from the three-toed woodpecker to the bald eagle.
The monument has habitat for birds of prey, waterfowl and all manner of small bird species. The bay-breasted warbler, spruce grouse and gray jay are all birds that live in the area that can be tricky to spot in New England. Northern harrier hawks and broad-winged hawks roam the sky.
“People would come from all over just for the bird species,” said Anita Mueller, a birder on the monument grounds who recently spotted a purple martin.
The land is home to the state’s two signature large forest mammals, bear and moose. Both animals can be elusive — especially bears, which try to avoid humans — and attempts to view them in the wild are best attempted with a Maine guide.
Unfortunately, moose aren’t so elusive when they’re lollygagging in traffic, which is why motorists are advised to go slowly, especially when night begins to fall. Collisions with moose are typically bad for all involved.
Hunting is permitted with a Maine license on lands east of the East Brand of the Penobscot River.
The creation of the monument came at the end of a long, contentious public process, and whether it should retain monument status remains a subject of debate.
President Donald Trump used an executive order this year to review more than two dozen national monuments, and Katahdin was on the list. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the monument last month, and signaled that he’s in favor of keeping it. Zinke said “clearly, it’s beautiful” and “everyone wants public access” while taking in a view of Mount Katahdin.
But Maine Gov. Paul LePage is a vocal critic of the monument, which he has called a “mosquito area.” He said in late June that he favors making it a “working forest” as opposed to preserving it and leaving it alone.
It’s unknown when the Trump administration will make decisions about which monuments to cut, but for now, Katahdin is open and welcoming guests to the back of beyond in Maine.
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