Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monumental Stepping Stone

by Drew Hanson

Last week President Obama designated five new monuments in the states of New Mexico, Washington, Ohio, Maryland and a first unit of the National Park System in Delaware. The designations will mean protection for land and water resources and historic sites that help tell the story of our country. More pressing in today’s economy, these designations will mean jobs.

According to USA Today, Jamie Tedesco, executive director of the Taos Green Chamber of Commerce, said that the designation in northern New Mexico will be a shot in the arm for the region.

Part of Delaware's new national monument
Tedesco said studies show the national monument designation will bring $15 million into the economy and 277 jobs.

"National monument designation has shown to bring jobs to an area," Tedesco said. "It just raises the spotlight on it. When you put a national monument tag on something, there's all kinds of promotional advertising going on with that."

In designating the new national monuments, the President was invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. The law gives a president the authority to, by executive order, restrict the use of particular federal government land or accept donation of lands for that purpose. The aim is to prohibit excavation or destruction of antiquities. With this law, protection can occur more quickly than waiting for Congress to act.

Sixteen presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect 125 places but none are in Wisconsin. Almost, though—the Badger State was once in line to have a national monument.

A 1961 National Park Service (NPS) report recommended that the Northern Kettle Moraine be elevated from a state forest to a national monument and unit of the National Park System. To date, nothing has come of the recommendation and it remains unlikely that the State of Wisconsin will turn over the Northern unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest to the federal government.

So consider another possibility.

There is an area along the Ice Age Trail that could be a national showcase for illustrating the difference between lands impacted by continental glaciers versus lands that show no signs of ever being glaciated. In 1961, NPS geologist Robert Rose wrote of this area, “The driftless area of Wisconsin is world famous because it is an unglaciated area of considerable size—lying far within extensively glaciated territory…Several eminent geologists who have been consulted are unanimous in the view that a segment embracing a good example of the moraine-driftless area relationships is highly essential in illustrating the story of continental glaciation. With the completion of each field study, the desirability of including such a segment becomes more firmly recognized... The relationships between moraine and bedrock of sedimentary origin are most strikingly exhibited in an area … immediately south and east of Cross Plains. Within this area rugged morainal ridges belonging to the Wisconsin [Glaciation] occur while the strikingly eroded margins of the driftless area lie immediately to the west and south. In brief, this key area is a self-contained unit scenically and scientifically.”

Rose was adding to the body of work that extends at least as far back as Thomas Chamberlin and Rollin Salisbury’s seminal work Driftless Area of the Upper Mississippi Valley, published in 1885 by the United States Geological Survey.

Rocks not of the Driftless Area
While a geologist can readily distinguish the difference between the two major physiographic regions—glaciated and unglaciated—the rest of us generally need to look a little more closely. The unglaciated landscape of most of the Driftless Area contains only a couple types of rocks—sandstone and dolomite. But the adjacent glaciated landscape contains a geologic potpourri of rock types that were carried by vast continental ice sheets. By seeing the distinct rocks up close the difference becomes obvious. Even children can grasp the contrast in the rocks during an easy walk between the two landscapes. It’s fun to experience. But past farming and more recent public rock collecting is erasing the evidence.

The President could designate this area as Driftless Border National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, beginning with lands already owned by the federal government.

Base map from Lee Clayton and John W. Attig, 1997
The United States Department of the Interior owns two parcels totaling about 300 acres on the Driftless Border in the Town of Cross Plains. Together the parcels could form the basis for a new unit of the National Park System. The focus then becomes leveraging the designation into greater action on the part of Congress and NPS for the Ice Age Trail. After all, the real goal is eliminating gaps in the Ice Age Trail.

Some national monument designations become a step in the conservation path of a place. Historically, Presidential designations of national monuments have sometimes forced the hand of Congress to finally take action. Such was the case when President Theodore Roosevelt designated Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 and President Carter designated 15 national monuments in 1978—both actions led Congress to enact legislation creating new national parks from the national monuments. Another example is President Calvin Coolidge’s 1925 designation of Meriwether Lewis National Monument which later became part of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail.

Creating the Driftless Border National Monument would help protect the nationally-significant antiquities of the site, increase tourism dollars and jobs for Wisconsin and, if shepherded strategically, push Congress and NPS to eliminate gaps in the Ice Age Trail.

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