Obama Designates New National Monuments of Interest to Paddlers

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Paddlers have plenty of reason to celebrate with President Barack Obama recently designating five new national monuments encompassing more than 240,000 acres, including several of keen interest to kayakers and canoeists. Among the new paddling-friendly monuments are…

Under the Antiquities Act, Obama signed five proclamations designating the sites on March 25, with Vice President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joining in on the ceremony. “These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country,” President Obama said. “By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come.”

The drum roll, please: Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico; First State National Monument in Delaware; Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio; and San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington.

“We commend President Obama for his vision in protecting five new national monuments that will safeguard historic, cultural, and natural treasures for future generations,” says American Rivers president Bob Irvin. “Two of the monuments, the First State National Monument in Delaware and Pennsylvania and the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, honor the importance of rivers to our nation’s history, culture, and environment.”

Two of the sites have no real relation to paddling. The Harriet Tubman site, located in Dorchester County, Md., on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, honors the African-American abolitionist who directed a secret network of safe houses to move slaves to freedom in the North, a key stop on the Underground Railroad. The Charles Young site honors Col. Charles Young, an officer in the United States Army who was the third black to graduate from West Point and first to achieve a colonel ranking. He later became a professor of military science at Wilberforce University

While these two have history buffs cheering, the other three have paddlers doing so. Here’s why

First State National Monument, Delaware
This newly designated national monument Includes 1,100 acres of land in the Brandywine Valley along the Delaware-Pennsylvania border that was originally acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682. But it’s its river offerings that paddlers and others cherish. “ “This river couldn’t be more deserving of protection,” says Amy Kober of American Rivers. “It protects land along the Brandywine River in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and the river has had a role in everything from the American Revolution to inspiring generations of artists. It’s a beautiful natural landscape.”

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, New Mexico
No, it’s not a national park like its big brother, Big Bend, downstream. But this stretch of the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico 28 miles north of Taos near the Colorado border offers everything its sibling does and more, from a beautiful river gorge to pre-historic artwork dating back 11,000 years. “New Mexico’s Rio Grande is known for its scenery, whitewater boating, and fishing,” says AR’s Kober. “It’s also critical habitat for bear, cougar, elk, and a host of migratory birds, and home to thousands of archeological sites. The national monument designation will ensure these treasures will be preserved.”

San Juan Islands National Monument, Washington
Simply put, it’s about time this region was protected. The San Juans offer some of the best sea kayaking in the states, from Friday and Roche harbors on San Juan Island to Eastsound on Orcas Island, Haro Strait, and more. No matter where you go, expect plenty of wildlife; there’s no better place to paddle with whales, thanks the nutrient-rich waters of Haro Strait. Three pods totaling about 84 orcas forage through the boundary water straits every summer during their migrations (launch from Snug Harbor in Mitchell Bay toward Deadman’s Cove). Just don’t get too close. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) requires boaters to avoid approaches closer than 100 feet of all whales. The area also teems with Dall’s porpoise, river otter and harbor seals.