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Meet Our 5 New National Monuments, Including San Juan Islands and Rio Grande del Norte

Congratulations, my fellow Americans. We now have 2 additional natural areas to call our own for outdoor recreation, plus 3 new sites where we can reflect on our nation’s history.

President Obama yesterday signed proclamations establishing 5 new national monuments, bringing the total of units in the National Park system nationwide to more than 400. See our previous REI Blog article from last October about which sites were under consideration.

The new nature-focused monuments are:


Several historic lighthouses dot the San Juan Islands. Photo from REI San Juan Islands Multisport trip.

San Juan Islands in Washington State:
A veritable outdoor paradise, the San Juans are an archipelago of some 450 islands just north of Puget Sound and south of the Canadian border. The island chain and surrounding waters are most notably home to orca whales, bald eagles and harbor seals. It is jokingly referred to as being in the “banana belt” of western Washington for its relatively sunny, dry weather (at least when compared to drizzly Seattle, which is nearby).

REI has operated popular sea kayaking trips, multisport trips and family trips to the area for years.

The secret has been getting out lately, though. The San Juans have received recent recognition from several Lonely Planet authors (include this foodie), Travel & Leisure magazine and National Geographic.


Kayaking is a popular activity in the San Juan Islands.

Rio Grande del Norte

Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico:
Located in the high desert country northwest of Taos, this 240,000-acre area is known for recreational opportunities including hiking, rafting and fishing. It includes stretches of the river gorge along with extinct volcanoes on the plateau (both can be seen in the Bureau of Land Management-provided photo at right).

The Rio Grande del Norte is visually scenic, and it is also important for local culture and wildlife conservation. Numerous archaelogical sites and artifacts dot the new monument.

Per the Rio Grande del Norte advocacy website, “This is an area that is not only stunning, it also has played a role in shaping the cultures for centuries and is an integral part of our communities—and economy—today.”


The Rio Grande flows past Ute Mountain. Copyright photo by Adriel Heisey.

The new history-focused sites are:

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers in Ohio: Located in the small town of Wilberforce near Dayton, the monument will preserve the home of Col. Charles Young (1864–1922), a distinguished officer in the U.S. Army who was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of Colonel. Young also served as one of the early Army superintendents of Sequoia and General Grant national parks, before the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916.

First State courthouse in Delaware

First State in Delaware: The monument will tell the story of the early Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and English settlement of the colony of Delaware, as well as Delaware’s role as the first state to ratify the Constitution. The park is comprised of 3 historic areas: the Dover Green, the New Castle Court House complex (shown at right) and the Woodlawn property in the Brandywine Valley. This is the first National Park Service unit designated in the state of Delaware.
Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad in Maryland: The monument commemorates the life of the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad who was responsible for helping enslaved people escape to freedom. The new national monument, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, includes large sections of landscapes that are significant to Tubman’s early life and evocative of her life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad. 

Are you familiar with any of these 5 areas?  If so, which ones have you visited? What was your trip like?

Above: New Castle Court House photo by the National Park Service. Summary photo of sunset kayakers taken from REI San Juan Islands Multisport trip.

Posted on at 2:00 PM

Tagged: national monuments, rio grande del norte and san juan islands

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amazing view.

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