Celebrating 5 Years of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

WHEREAS, 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;

WHEREAS, it is in the public interest to preserve and protect the historic and scientific objects in Katahdin Woods and Waters;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

– from Presidential Proclamation — Establishment of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

The Obama White House released these words on August 24, 2016, a full five years ago today, bringing a satisfying conclusion to the years-long effort to create a federally-protected national park unit in northern Maine. The effort was driven by local entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby and her family, and supported by thousands of Mainers and Maine Audubon members (Maine Audubon’s Eliza Donoghue is on the Board of Director of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters).

It has not been the easiest first years for the Monument: the state and federal administrations in power in 2017 were not interested in bolstering the National Park Service, and publicly considered whether it could revoke the designation of the Monument. Though progress in building out the recreational aspects of the Monument were slow—highway signs directing travelers to the Monument were not installed until late 2019—the Monument survived early political challenges and the first year of the COVID pandemic and is thriving.

This weekend, some of these supporters gathered at the behest of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters to celebrate the first five years of the Monument’s existence. Anniversary celebrations took place August 21 and 22, based out of Shin Pond Village.  I was invited to the event to lead bird walks for participants.

On Sunday morning, I joined legendary Maine conservationist Don Hudson on a hike up Sugarloaf Mountain (not the ski resort), which offers commanding views of the Monument as well as Baxter State Park. Though thick clouds obscured those views, the group had an amazing time learning about the mountain’s plant life from Hudson, a trained botanist, as well as about a section of 450-million year old Ordovician fossils found on the mountainside, remnants of the time when what is now Maine was under an ocean.

On the way out I stopped into the Sebeois Unit, one of the discontiguous sections of the Monument, to look for birds. The remote woods were full of warblers, vireos, and other migrant passerines bulking up in preparation for the arduous journey south in the next few weeks. One highlight was a brief but satisfying look at a Black-billed Cuckoo, just my second ever sighting of this elusive species in Maine.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument offers a variety of recreational opportunities and protects some of the most beautiful landscapes in the state. Maine Audubon is grateful for the good work being done to protect these lands by the National Park Service, the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. and the Quimby Family, and others. We look forward to returning to celebrate many more anniversaries in this beautiful landscape.

One of the beautiful streams coursing through the Sebeois Unit


Sunday hike participants atop Sugarloaf Mountain, with Don Hudson (second from left) and Maine Audubon’s Nick Lund (third from left)


450 million-year-old bivalve fossils on Sugarloaf Mountain


A rare Bear’s Head Tooth mushroom on Sugarloaf Mountain