National monument status protects beauty, history of San Juan Islands

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 29, 2014 

One year ago, on March 25, a wonderful thing happened for San Juan County. Precious federal lands in our beloved San Juan Islands were protected as a national monument by President Obama. It's something that many in our local community worked hard to achieve. This designation means that these unique lands are permanently protected. Their natural and cultural heritage draws visitors from around the globe, helping to support our economy. Monument status provides us with the double rewards of protection and prosperity.

The San Juan Islands National Monument consists of nearly 1,000 acres of land found on several islands in northern Puget Sound. These islands offer visitors a landscape of unmatched contrasts, where forests and sandy beaches are framed by majestic snow-capped peaks. The monument sites are a cultural and historical treasure trove containing Native American archaeological sites, picturesque lighthouses, relics of early European and American settlers, and wildlife habitats that make the San Juan Islands one of the most biologically diverse locations on earth. Unspoiled places, unsurpassed whale and wildlife watching, and the almost unimaginable views of sea and mountains are among the many reasons people are enticed to come hike, bike, kayak, and otherwise explore these islands -- and stay for a while.

The islands' bountiful gifts are also why San Juan Island was named one of the "Top 10 Islands in the United States" by TripAdvisor for the second year in a row, finishing ahead of the Hawaiian Islands, and the islands were voted the No. 3 U.S. Travel Destination by Lonely Planet in 2013. We are appreciative of these and many other accolades, but nothing has meant more for us than having some of our precious treasures proclaimed a national monument, for that designation is what ensures that the captivating spirit of the islands will endure.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama said he would "use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations." He has noted that "our country is blessed with some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. It's up to us to protect them, so our children's children can experience them, too." Although the islands have enjoyed good fortune, many other communities nationwide are still clamoring for their public lands' heritage to be protected. We encourage the president to keep up his good work, and to continue to listen and respond to communities nationwide that want to see their public lands and their heritage protected, just as he listened and responded to us.

We thank Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell and Congressman Larsen for their leadership in seeking permanent protection for these lands in the San Juan Islands. We hope that on this anniversary, we can all take a moment to thank President Obama for his support for the islands' local community and economy one year ago, and encourage him to use the Antiquities Act when future communities make the same call for preserving our nation's heritage.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Deborah Hopkins-Buchanan is executive director of the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau.

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