Obama used century-old law to create new national monuments

Home from foreign travel, President Barack Obama is tapping executive powers from a century-old law to create five new national monuments celebrating history and nature. And one of them is in Vice President Joe Biden’s political backyard.

The president plans Monday to use the Antiquities Act to designate the 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 the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state.

The Delaware monument, commemorating the state’s history and preserving about 1,100 acres near Wilmington, is the first step toward creating a national park in Delaware, the only state not included in the national park system. The project is a longtime priority for Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware.

The largest site is Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico, where Obama will designate nearly 240,000 acres for protection. The site includes wildlife habitat valued by hunters and anglers; rafting, camping, and other recreation, and is prized by the region’s Hispanic and tribal groups.

Advocates say the new monument in New Mexico, to be run by the U.S Bureau of Land Management, will contribute an estimated $15 million a year in economic benefits to the region.

The San Juan Islands monument off Washington’s northwest coast includes roughly 1,000 acres of public land already managed by the BLM. Supporters say the designation will protect important cultural and historical areas and safeguard natural areas used for recreation and other purposes.

The Arlington, Va.-based Conservation Fund donated property on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to the National Park Service to help tell the story of Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Tubman escaped slavery at age 27 but returned to Maryland’s Dorchester and Caroline counties to help slaves escape to the North.

The Charles Young monument near Xenia, Ohio, recognizes and celebrates Col. Charles Young, a West Point graduate who was the first black national park superintendent. Young was the highest-ranking black officer in the U.S. Army until his death in 1922.

The new monuments would be the first designated by Obama in his second term. Obama created four national monuments in his first term: The Cesar E. Chavez and Fort Ord national monuments in California; Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia; and Chimney Rock in Colorado.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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