Its future may still be uncertain, but the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument has fully opened just before Memorial Day weekend.

Tim Hudson, the monument’s superintendent, said Friday that the opening of the facility’s 21-mile Loop Road will increase access for casual visitors and hardcore hikers or paddlers, alike. The north gate, another main point of entry, has been open since May 13.

“It’s the beginning of the season, so I suspect we’ll see more Maine traffic than anything,” he said. “But all through the winter, interest in the monument has been steady.”

Depending on how a Trump administration review of the monument’s designation goes, it could be the only chance for some to see it.

Former President Barack Obama last year designated the 87,500-acre parcel just east of Baxter State Park as a national monument as allowed under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Some local and state officials, including Gov. Paul LePage, complained that the designation was an overreach.

After Donald Trump was elected, LePage appealed to the Trump administration, which agreed to add the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument to a list of 27 monuments and parks under review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

LePage has long argued that there was not enough local or stakeholder input before the monument’s designation, something others had flatly rejected. The governor also has dismissed its possible popularity among tourists, referring to it in recent testimony before a congressional committee as the “mosquito area.”

More recently, LePage ordered his departments to not erect any signage that advertises or promotes the monument. A hand-made sign monument supporters apparently hung over a highway overpass was recently taken down.

A preliminary report on Zinke’s recommendations is expected in June, and a comprehensive report that is scheduled for release in August could include the revocation of monument status for some of the areas.

Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation, independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, each sent letters to Zinke this week urging him to let the monument stand.

“I know that this administration is serious about growing jobs in rural areas; I am absolutely convinced that the prompt conclusion of this review and reaffirmation of the monument designation would be a positive step in this direction,” King wrote. “I therefore urge Interior to work with the community and help the KWW Monument to move forward. This monument is some of the first positive news for the Katahdin region in a long time; please don’t let it be taken away.”

Pingree joined 84 other House members in writing that the executive branch does not have the authority “to rescind or substantially reduce the size of any national monument – the ostensible purpose of Zinke’s review.”

Lucas St. Clair – whose mother, philanthropist Roxanne Quimby, donated the land to the federal government – has become a leading advocate of the monument and said it’s unfortunate to see it caught up in political games.

“What happens when people go see it for themselves is they fall in love with it,” St. Clair said. “So the more people who visit and support the local businesses, that’s only going to help make the case to keep it open.”

King expressed concern in his letter to Zinke that the federal review is having an “economically chilling effect” on the region. That has caused many local elected officials who had previously opposed the monument, including state Rep. Steve Stanley, D-Medway, to reverse their positions and work toward its success.

Although there are no signs leading to the park, St. Clair said people are seeing that as a sort of “challenge” to go find it themselves. And the monument’s roads are all labeled.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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