I break trail for my companions, pushing through snow and curtains of my own misty breath, both aglow with starlight. We left warmth and merriment in Big Spring Brook Hut where the rest of our group is gathered. Only three of us pushed on after the 11-mile ski from the northern entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in northern Maine.
Occasionally, the shadowed beauty draws our senses from the task at hand, and we stray to the edges of the narrow, wind-packed trail where the snow tries to swallow us. The trail itself is illuminated only by starlight. The sheer magnitude of the universe displays itself above us. Its scope overwhelms the mind. But, on this summit, on a clear, cold night, we are perhaps as close as we can come to taking it all in, to understanding it. This type of sky, and the experiences it elicits, needs protection.
Seen from space, the eastern United States is almost continuously lit, except in Maine’s North Woods. The monument is nestled in the heart of the largest remaining block of undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi River. In the shadows of Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak, is one of the last places where you can see the stars and experience truly quiet wilderness. The only sounds are our heavy breathing and swishing skis.
Returning, we race down the mountain, shooting between shadows and starlight so bright our unlit headlamps are unnecessary. I will never forget descending from the heavens like a meteor.
The next day, our entire group visited the summit, known locally as “The Lookout.” The name fits.
On August 24, 2016, one day before the National Park Service Centennial, President Obama designated 87,500 acres along the East Branch of the Penobscot as Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Small-business owners and community leaders in the Katahdin region rejoiced, understanding the well-established recreational, environmental and economic value of our country’s national monuments and parks.
Maine’s governor wants to destroy the monument and the progress it brings. He has asked President Trump to rescind the designation, and the Department of the Interior is seeking public comment. This move is opposed by Mainers who, in poll after poll, both before and after the designation, support it by vast majorities. But protecting this will take all of us.
Please send a message to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. You can help protect this treasured landscape and economic opportunity for Maine.
Most importantly, visit the land itself.
Whether you experience The Lookout by starlight (or sunlight), paddle the waters of the East Branch or pedal along its western bank, or just enjoy the food and youthful hospitality of a local place like Mt. Chase Lodge, you’ll learn why Maine’s state slogan is, “The way life should be.”
Last Chance to Take Action!
Tell the Department of the Interior why Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and all of our national monuments, should be left alone. The deadline to comment is July 9, 2017.
To get more involved, connect with the good folks at Natural Resources Council of Maine.