President Obama designated more than 87,600 acres of forestland in Maine’s North Woods as a national monument Wednesday, capping a years-long quest by a controversial conservationist on the eve of the National Park Service’s centennial.

With a unilateral stroke of his pen, Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in an area that was once the heart of Maine’s logging and papermaking industry, but now faces an uncertain economic future. Within hours, the National Park Service was in the process of opening offices in the Katahdin region while inviting visitors to discover the monument’s “rivers, streams, woods, flora, fauna, geology, and the night skies that have attracted humans for millennia.”

Supporters hope the monument designation – on lands bordering Baxter State Park that were donated by Roxanne Quimby – will lure additional jobs and economic development while highlighting the region’s natural beauty and history. Proponents also argued that the monument will prove a powerful draw to some of the nearly 3 million annual visitors to Acadia National Park, which ranks among the National Park Service’s busiest destinations.

“Katahdin Woods and Waters is an exceptional example of the rich and storied Maine woods, enhanced by its location in a larger protected landscape, and thus would be a valuable addition to the nation’s natural, historical and cultural heritage conserved and enjoyed in the National Park System,” reads the executive order signed by Obama.

But his executive action infuriated opponents who don’t trust the federal government or who fear the designation will scare away potential industrial-based opportunities, leaving only seasonal tourism jobs.

LEPAGE OBJECTS, SAYS SUPPORT SCANT

Gov. Paul LePage, a vocal critic of both Obama and Quimby, declined to speak Wednesday to a group of reporters in Portland, but in a written statement accused the president of “taking unilateral action against the will of the people.”

“The Legislature passed a resolution opposing a National Monument in the North Woods, members of Maine’s congressional delegation opposed it and local citizens voted against it repeatedly,” LePage said. “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.”

On Tuesday, after reports surfaced that Quimby’s nonprofit foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., had transferred the acreage to the U.S. Department of the Interior, LePage issued a statement that said in part that “that’s one way to get out of paying taxes to the state of Maine. It’s also an ego play for Roxanne Quimby and Senator Angus King.”

David Farmer, a spokesman for Quimby and the foundation, called the governor’s remarks “ridiculous.”

“To suggest that a nonprofit philanthropic organization would give the American people $100 million to avoid property taxes is silly. It’s crazy on the surface,” Farmer said in an email. The land is valued at about $60 million, and the foundation also created a $40 million endowment to help operate and maintain the monument.

Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby has long advocated for creating a national monument in Maine's North Woods.

Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby has long advocated for creating a national monument in Maine’s North Woods.

Farmer said the foundation paid $120,208.29 in property taxes to several unorganized townships at the property transfer closing this week. He also said the federal government will make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments to compensate for the loss of annual property taxes resulting from the monument designation.

“We believe Penobscot County will actually see an increase in revenue, not to mention an increase in jobs and economic activity,” Farmer said.

VICTORY AFTER LONG BATTLE

The designation creates a large federal presence in Maine’s North Woods, a rugged area that has long attracted visitors to fish its famed trout streams, hunt for moose or paint the landscapes. It also represents a partial yet substantial victory for Quimby, the wealthy co-founder of Burt’s Bees cosmetics, who had failed to win congressional support for a national park.

“It’s a project my mom started almost two decades ago, so it’s amazing that here we are,” said Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and the public face of the recent push to build support for a national monument. “So it feels great. We have been working on this for a long time.”

The land will be managed by the National Park Service and will be open for a host of recreational activities, notably hiking, camping, whitewater paddling and fishing. Hunting and snowmobiling – two so-called “traditional uses” that are important to the year-round local economy – will apparently be allowed on some, but not all, of the 87,654 acres.

The deeds specify that hunting, for instance, will be allowed “on parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River,” and existing arrangements between the state and Elliotsville Plantation for snowmobile routes will be preserved. But the deeds that Quimby attached to the land transfer prohibit bear hunting using bait or dogs, issues that were hotly debated in 2014 during a failed ballot initiative.

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The board of directors said Quimby’s foundation would make an initial donation of $20 million toward the $40 million endowment to help cover operations and maintenance costs at the new monument.

St. Clair said work is already underway to re-deck bridges and improve roads.

“I want to make sure the communities are able to fully benefit from this, and whatever I can do to help, I’m going to do,” St. Clair said.

The park service wasted no time promoting the nation’s newest national monument, the 413th land unit added under the service’s umbrella.

Elliotsville Plantation staff displayed copies of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument brochures showing the park service’s trademark, arrowhead-shaped insignia. The park service has reportedly already hired a superintendent and deputy superintendent to oversee the national monument and planned to open offices this week in Millinocket and Patten.

The park service also created a website for Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and released a YouTube video celebrating Thursday’s 100th park service anniversary with scenes of the new monument.

PRESERVING A ‘RICH HISTORY’

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, meanwhile, announced plans to visit the new national monument this weekend.

“As the National Park Service begins a second century of conservation this week, the president’s designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument serves as an inspiration to reflect on America’s iconic landscapes and historical and cultural treasures,” Jewell said in a written statement. “Through this incredibly generous private gift for conservation, these lands will remain accessible to current and future generations of Americans, ensuring the rich history of Mainers’ hunting, fishing and recreation heritage will forever be preserved.”

National monuments are, in many respects, nearly identical to the better-known national parks, although they often do not have the same cachet among tourists. The key difference is that while only Congress can create a national park, the law allows the president to use executive action to preserve historic or scientifically significant federally owned lands.

Obama’s nine-page executive order recaps the monument’s lengthy history, including the Native Americans’ continual use of the land, visits by such dignitaries as Henry David Thoreau and John James Audubon, and its place in Maine’s forestry industry. It also describes the land’s natural resources in glowing terms.

“Katahdin Woods and Water’s daytime scenery is awe-inspiring, from the breadth of its mountain-studded landscape, to the channels of its free-flowing streams with their rapids, falls and quiet water, to its vantage for viewing the Mount Katahdin massif, the ‘greatest mountain,’ ” reads the executive order. “The area’s night skies rival this experience, glittering with stars and planets and occasional displays of the aurora borealis, in this area of the country known for its dark sky.”

TENSE DEBATE LIKELY TO PERSIST

But Obama’s decision is unlikely to end the robust and often tense debate that has divided the Katahdin region’s business community and even some families.

While organizations such as the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce hope it will lure more tourists and create jobs, opponents warned it could further destabilize a forest products industry struggling to rebound from the closure of the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills. Many others have mixed views, seeing significant jobs potential, but not in the industry that was once the backbone of the region.

Environmental and conservation organizations across the country – from Maine-based RESTORE: The North Woods and Environment Maine to the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the National Parks Conservation Association – cheered the creation of the new monument.

Skeptics have questioned whether allowing the federal government to establish a toehold in the region will lead to restrictions on forestry, tighter restrictions on industrial air pollution or limits on activities such as snowmobiling, ATV riding and hunting.

The reality, however, is that Quimby already owned the land and could manage it as she saw fit. While her foundation has permitted motorized recreation and hunting on some parts of the land, those are more recent allowances. Quimby’s initially harsh stance on such “consumptive uses” – and her outspoken support for a North Woods national park – made her a divisive figure in the region. Even today, some older pickup trucks in the area still sport well-worn “Ban Roxanne” bumper stickers.

Yet Quimby and St. Clair, her son, also have become heroes in Maine’s conservation community. St. Clair has won over many local residents and business owners with his willingness to ease restrictions on uses of the land. And Quimby has developed a national reputation for her willingness to spend her own money to conserve valuable land nationwide, earning her a spot on the National Park Service’s charitable foundation.