Mastering the Monument

In its third full year, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument provides visitors with secluded retreat.

Nestled deep into the heart of Maine’s woods is a national monument with just a few dirt roads leading in. No signs marked this land until this spring, yet 30,000 people found their way to the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument last year. Since opening the national monument in 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) has been working to update the infrastructure. “It’s a balance between making sure the resources are not degraded and still making it very usable for the public,” says monument superintendent Tim Hudson. Three new trails will be created this year, but NPS is working to finalize a master plan before adding more, says Hudson. “It has to be put together in a thoughtful manner.”

At 87,563 acres, the monument abuts the eastern border of Baxter State Park and extends through northern Penobscot County. While there’s no electricity, cell service, or potable water, the journey is well worth it for those seeking retreat. The primary infrastructure is an existing 17-mile loop logging road with several trailheads and viewpoints. Camping is allowed in the park, although it remains relatively primitive. Designated campsites and lean-to shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are free to use, but no dogs are allowed inside the shelters. All visitors need to be aware of their surroundings: the dirt park roads are shared with logging trucks, which always have the right-of-way. The NPS has worked with the logging industry to create and provide their guests with a safety brochure, but it’s essential to be wary, go slow, and be ready to pull over at a moment’s notice. The Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (FKWW), a nonprofit with a mission to preserve, protect, and promote the land, offers guides and maps depending on the desired activity: birders rejoice at a preplanned checklist, snowshoers can mosey along a mapped-out river trail, and for those looking for a scenic drive, there is a guide for the picturesque Loop Road. On September 21, visitors can spend time under the sky at the annual Stars Over Katahdin event, complete with a campfire, smores, and scientific anecdotes from astronomers and star aficionados. The park is also open to snowmobilers and hunters, but these activities are restricted to certain areas within the monument, and pertinent rules and regulations should be considered before making the trip.

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