President Obama in August used his authority under the antiquities act to designate 87,500 acres of private land in Northern Maine as a national monument. The land belonged to Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees. The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a smaller version of Quimby’s original plan for a 150,000-acre national park.
Quimby could have created a privately owned and managed park or donated her land to a non-profit organization that manages and conserves lands, but instead donated her land to the federal government.
The Quimby family’s non-profit organization, Elliotsville Plantation, had been allowing the public onto its 87,500 acres of land. But Quimby wanted to protect her land in perpetuity, leave a lasting legacy for herself, and increase visitation to the area. From Quimby’s perspective, involving the federal government made sense. With the national monument designation, the area will probably draw more visitors than a private park or reserve would have and will most likely be protected in the future.
The national park system has been called “America’s best idea,” but even after celebrating its 100th anniversary last week, the National Park Service is currently struggling. It has a staggering maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion and this new monument designation only adds to that continued fiscal burden. Besides the large maintenance backlog, federal parks do not set the entrance fee prices and are not allowed to keep all of the revenue. These rules cause the National Park Service to be dependent on Congress for funding and makes covering costs even more difficult.
One idea that could benefit everyone was introduced by Holly Fretwell, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center. She suggests that federal parks could be run as franchises by individuals, businesses or nonprofit organizations. Whoever manages the park would have to follow certain guidelines dictated by the National Park Service, and in turn would be able to use the national park brand.
Allowing a nonprofit organization to run the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would ensure that the park is always properly maintained and that it is protected in perpetuity. If the park service ever needed to, it could step in and manage the land or find a new manager. This public-private partnership would be more effective than a top-down approach.
Government is not the only option when it comes to land management, there are many other private organizations that are capable of managing land. Quimby could have created a privatized park similar to one that is being created in Montana. American Prairie Reserve is a nonprofit organization that is creating a wildlife reserve in the northeastern part of Montana. When it is complete, it will be roughly one and a half times the size of Yellowstone National Park. The reserve is open to public use as a national park or monument would be and consists of 353,104 acres.
Quimby could have also donated her land to a non-profit organization that specializes in land conservation. The Nature Conservancy is one of many groups that conserves and manages lands worldwide. In Maine alone, the Nature Conservancy manages more than 70,000 acres of land and has helped protect 1.7 million acres.
Quimby could have left a legacy through either public or private means. She chose to leave her mark in history by giving her land to the public. Quimby’s land can now benefit from the National Park Service’s name, but now the question is can the National Park Service properly maintain and manage its new land? If the National Park Service would allow a nonprofit organization or a business to run the new monument, Quimby’s land would be well managed for years to come.