The Wrack

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Marking Murky Milestones

August 26, 2016 By Scott Richardson Filed under Article Tags: historynational parksnoaarachel carson

When I heard that the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge would be celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, I thought "Cool, and I was there at the beginning."

I remember my family taking a jaunt down Route 9 from my grandparents' house in Kennebunk after a ho-hum conversation about some Rachel Carson land that had just opened up. After a short drive, we piled out of grandpa's Bonneville and walked into the woods.

A summer 1970 visit to Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

The day was bright, but the sun was muted by a closed canopy most of the way. We strolled along in single file, following a path softened by pine needles, until we reached an opening where sunlight burst through to the forest floor. The effect was profound: Beaming light, a scent of pine and sea air, and an enveloping quiet that belied the presence of my brothers and me. I've no idea how long that moment lingered or how the spell was broken, but I recall that glade as a cathedral, that instant a locus. I was in awe. In Nature.

Decades after my epiphany, prompted by the impending party, I pulled out my dad's old slides to find a picture taken that day. The "refuge system goose" sign was easy to spot, but I was confused. The picture wasn't from 1966; those kids were too old and the cardboard mount was stamped "AUG 1970." Was I really not there at the beginning?

I had misunderstood my milestone. The Coastal Maine National Wildlife Refuge was indeed established in 1966. Three years later, though, it was renamed in Miss Carson's honor. The dedication ceremony waited until June 27, 1970, just weeks before my family's summer vacation. A different sort of beginning.

The Wells Reserve Turns 30

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1966 in cooperation with the State of Maine to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migratory birds.

— fws.gov/refuge/rachel_carson

The mother of the modern environmental movement would have been pleased by the purpose of her namesake refuge. Rachel Carson was always drawn to the edge of the sea and she knew the ecological imperative of estuarine ebb and flow. Surely, she would have also appreciated the passage of the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972. That legislation, in part, established a National Estuarine Sanctuary program that proved to be a catalyst for protecting Laudholm Farm.

By working together in the early 1980s, the Laudholm Farm Trust, NOAA (with its National Estuarine Sanctuary program), the Department of Interior (with its Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge), and other vital partners were able to put together land and water and enough money to create the Wells National Estuarine Sanctuary.

That was in 1984. Another murky milestone?

For the Wells sanctuary to become complete required another 18 months. The 1984 purchase established the sanctuary, but it was the second purchase, on April 24, 1986, that sealed the whole deal. On August 31, the sanctuary was dedicated, so it's that festive day that puts the pin in our current calendar.

Speaking of Parties

As everyone has noticed, the National Park Service marked its 100th anniversary this week. We echo the congratulations coming from all quarters. Huzzah, NPS!

I wonder, though: Might this be the muddiest milestone of the month? Sure, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act on August 25, 1916 and, yes, that created the National Park System. But before our 28th president even picked up his pen, the United States already had 35 national parks and monuments (Yellowstone, the first, was designated in 1872). So aren't we all hooting and hollering over the growth of the federal bureaucracy, rather than the sweeping protection of exemplary natural and cultural resources?

A minor point. Party on, rangers!

Postscript

Acadia National Park. Photo by Kristi Rugg.

Maine's only national park, Acadia, also celebrates its 100th birthday this year, even while explaining it has three birthdays.

  • July 8, 1916: Sieur de Monts National Monument established
  • February 26, 1919: Renamed Lafayette National Park
  • January 19, 1929: Renamed Acadia National Park and expanded

Post-Postscript

Finally, welcome, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. May you celebrate many joyous anniversaries. August 24, 2016, right?

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