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Meet America's 5 Newest National Monuments

Rio monument1President Obama signed five more places into the sacrosanct fold of national land-hood on Monday under the nearly 107-year-old Antiquities Act.

Make room for the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, the Río Grande del Norte National Monument, the San Juan Islands National Monument, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, and the First State National Monument on your bucket list.

First we'll tell you a little bit about the path to protection for national monuments, then we'll show you why you should visit these five new destinations. 

The Waiting Game

The Antiquities Act lets the president make national monuments of public lands with "historic or scientific" interest, and fast.

While Congress can establish national monuments, too, fast is unlikely — which is just what Antiquities is for, according to Meghan Kissell, campaign communications director for the nonprofit Conservation Lands Foundation.

See: the Grand Canyon.

"There were tremendous fights for years about what to do with that area," Kissell said. "By the time it was designated as a national monument, there had been bills in congress for a dozen year or so. There were a lot of people arguing about what the value of it was."

President Theodore Roosevelt secured the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908 (two days after Muir Woods). It became a national park in 1919 via Congress, which alone has authority to establish national parks.

What’s in a Name

There actually is Congressional legislation now proposing that First State and Harriet Tubman become national historical parks. (The "historical" usually means the site commemorates an idea, as well as acreage, said Mike Vouri, chief of interpretation at San Juan Island National Historical Park.)

According to Mike Litterst, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service (NPS), “This isn’t going to happen, but Congress could theoretically pass that legislation tomorrow, and the national monument would almost immediately be superseded by a national historical park.”

(Our Theo also Antiquities-Acted the Pinnacles National Monument in 1908. Congress made it Pinnacles National Park in 2013. Litterst said the switch primarily just gives the place a higher profile.)

The Antiquities Act, said Litterst, allows the president to save time. So once a site is secured, whatever it’s called, don’t get stuck on its title.

“The nomenclature is more a factor of how the site is created,” Litterst said. “Once that site is created, every one of those designations has equal protection.”

Seconds Kissell: “At the end of the day, it’s not as important how the area got protected.”

Who Gets What

The First State, Harriet Tubman and Charles Young monuments fall under NPS purview. As monuments now or maybe-official-parks later, all three NPS sites are part of the National Park System. They’re national parks with a little “n," and a little “p."

The Bureau of Land Management's got the Río Grande and San Juan monuments. NPS versus BLM oversight just reflects which one already handled which lands before their new designations.

“[The overseeing agency] really has to do with which agency was managing the lands before,” Kissell said. “Three of the areas were already federal lands under the National Park Service. And the lands that are with the Bureau of Land Management, they stay with the BLM.

“In all five cases, their status is raised. All five of these are permanently protected.”

Introducing ...

So who are they? Here’s a glimpse our nationally protected lands' newest initiates.

Patos Island Light (photo credit - Tom Reeve)San Juan Islands National Monument

The Washington State monument encompasses 1,000-ish acres of the San Juan Islands archipelago in Puget Sound. Surrounded by orcas, seals and porpoises, the islands are host to the world's scant population of fuzzy-bodied island marble butterflies, which were assumed extinct from 1908 to 1998. The monument also runs alongside the pre-existing San Juan Island National Historical Park, a two-part NPS site located on the northern and southern tips of San Juan Island. And the neighboring 454-acre San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, sanctuary to a trove of migrating sea birds, is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which, along with BLM and NPS, is parented by the U.S. Department of the Interior).


Rio monument2Río Grande del Norte National Monument

Located north of Taos, New Mexico, the monument comprises about 242,555 acres of the the five new monument's combined 250,000 acres. All that space contains extinct volcanoes, an 800-foot-deep gorge, millennia-old rock art, and opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Camping and bald-eagle spotting, too.



Harriet monumentHarriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

The 25,000 acre monument lies in the Maryland county where Harriet Tubman was born, enslaved, and returned to smuggle others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Comprising an NPS-described “mosaic of federal, state, and private lands,” the monument doesn't have additional park facilities planned for it yet. The site does, though, already include the FWS-managed Stewart's Canal, where work on the docks exposed Tubman to covert communication about a free North. The monument also contains the 480-acre eponymous Jacob Jackson Home Site, an Underground Railroad safe house and home of the free black man who helped Tubman free her brothers.


Charles young houseCharles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

The monument features the Wilberforce, Ohio home of Colonel Charles Young, the first African American to serve as a U.S. military attaché (he did it twice) and the highest ranking African American officer in the U.S. Army for 28 years until his death in 1922. The home was a stop along the Underground Railroad decades before it became a gathering place for Young’s friends (poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, NAACP co-founder W.E.B. Dubois), where he lived with his widowed mother while teaching military science and tactics at Wilberforce University early in his career. The home’s public opening is pending.


Dover greenFirst State National Monument

Delaware’s first little-"n," little-“p” park spans three separate sites in our nation’s maiden state, one of which extends into Pennsylvania. The monument includes the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property that straddles two states; The New Castle Court House, where the Delaware Assembly voted to become a state and separate from England and Pennsylvania, as well as the Sheriff's House and the Green in New Castle, Delaware; and Dover Green, where the constitution was first ratified, in Dover, Delaware.


HS_Mackenzie_BLOG Mackenzie Mount is an editorial intern at Sierra. She's cleaned toilets at Yellowstone National Park and studied sustainable cooking at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.



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--images courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, Tom Reeve, the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and wikimedia.org user GB Fan


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