In Maine, a Public Park in Search of Public Support
MILLINOCKET, Me., Nov. 7, 2006— Roxanne Quimby could be forgiven
if she thought she was emulating the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Percival
P. Baxter, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and other lovers of Maine’s landscape
when she started to buy bits of the vast northern woodlands near here
to be the core of a new national park.
Photos by Herb Swanson for the NY Times
Evelyn Dunphy, at work on a painting of Mount Katahdin, is raising money
to expand Baxter State Park
Who knew that when she began using some of the fortune she had earned
from her organic personal-care business, Burt’s Bees, to buy up
woods to preserve, she would be greeted with “Ban Roxanne”
Or, that her efforts at preservation — banning snowmobiling, hunting
and all-terrain vehicles on 50,000 of her acres — would be taken
as an attack on the old-time values of the timberland?
Who knew that even some conservation-minded groups would be reluctant
to support the decade-old vision of a national park that had inspired
Still, one might have guessed, looking at the streets of this town of
4,700 people, where hunter’s blaze orange is the fall fashion statement
of choice during this month’s deer hunting season.
Millinocket residents fear that turning timberland into parkland will
further cut timber jobs, strip them of their accustomed hunting grounds
and prevent the development of resorts and snowmobile parks they seeas
one way out of the downward economic spiral.
“What Roxanne and the others want to do, they want to create a park
up here the size of Connecticut and take it out of the heartland of the
Maine forest,” Eugene Conlogue, the town’s manager, said in
an interview. “That’s a nonstarter for us”
Other environmental groups, while sympathetic to the idea of a national
park, see it as an unwelcome distraction from their fight to block a proposed
420,000-acre resort development that the Plum Creek Timber Company has
unveiled for Moosehead Lake, just west of here.
As Brownie Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council
of Maine, said, “You can’t pour energy into protection of
a single area, even though it’s large and hugely important, without
risking losses, big losses, in other really important areas of Maine’s
North Woods forest.”
Thirty years ago, Ms. Quimby was living a subsistence counterculture life
in the North Woods. After building her financial empire, she was taken
with an idea conceived a decade ago by Jym St. Pierre and other local
conservationists for a Maine Woods National Park that would envelop Baxter
State Park, in the conservation equivalent of Russian nesting dolls. The
new park would be the size of Yellowstone and Yosemite combined.
“I find it pretty ironic, or humorous, that people make a national
park out to be such a radical idea,” said Ken Spalding, the project
coordinator for the moving force behind the park, Restore, a group with
offices in Hallowell and in Concord, Mass. “American people love
their national parks.”
Ms. Quimby, 56, hopes Mr. Spalding and Restore’s [Maine] director,
Mr. St. Pierre, are right. The idea of a park, she said, “floats
She prefers that her 75,000 acres become a base on which Restore’s
3.2-million acre park could be built.
But in the past few weeks, she has started to explore conservation alternatives
and has met with her opponents to see if her goals to bring the northlands
back to their pre-logging state can be reconciled with their goals of
finding economic value and personal freedom in the same woods.
In the last six years, more than six million acres of timber company land
have changed hands. Timber companies have come and gone like truckers
at a roadside stop.
“What has happened over the years,” Ms. Quimby said, “is
that there were very few landowners and they had a very permissive policy
toward land use as long as you stayed out of the way of the logging operation.
So people had this unrestricted access.”
“So now that the ownership is changing,” she said, “it’s
becoming quite clear that this is private property. And as a private property
owner I don’t have to let anybody on it.”
That, she added, “is becoming the alternative to public land.”
When Ms. Quimby banned snowmobiling and hunting and all-terrain vehicles
from the first two tracts she bought, which totaled more than 50,000 acres,
the “ban Roxanne” cries were heard everywhere here. When she
bought her third tract, 23,000 acres, earlier this fall, adjacent to the
critical parcel in a state-brokered deal to expand Baxter park, opponents
This time, Ms. Quimby sat down and met with them and made a deal. For
at least a year, snowmobiles and hunters could continue to use the new
purchase, called Sandy Stream. In the meantime, the competing visions
of the North Woods’ future could be debated with less pressure.“Mainers
are more individualistic.” she said. “They’re used to
having more space about them. They are very self-sufficient, including
in the way they think about things.”
It is not clear whether Ms. Quimby’s efforts at appeasement will
beget a more conciliatory attitude to other conservation deals, particularly
the not-yet-completed purchase of land around Katahdin Lake. This is a
place whose haunting views of Maine’s largest mountain have been
a magnet for American landscape painters, from Frederic Church on.
Patrick McGowan, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Conservation,
has spent months trying to put all the pieces in place to add 6,000 acres
to the eastern side of the 204,800-acre Baxter State Park, ensuring that
Katahdin Lake, the artists’ beaches and the surrounding woodlands
would be preserved. The deal was buffeted on its way through the Maine
Legislature, but survived, with two provisos.
Mr. McGowan, aided by the nonprofit conservation group, The Trust for
Public Lands, had to get $14 million in private donations to complete
the purchase. Facing a Dec. 15 deadline, he is more than $3 million shy
of the goal. The Trust is organizing fund-raising events, and artists
like Evelyn Dunphy are donating canvases of Katahdin.
The second proviso was that one-third of the new parkland— though
not the area around lake — had to be open to “traditional”
uses like hunting and snowmobiling.
That deal was barely done when Ms. Quimby announced the purchase of her
latest, 23,000 acre, tract from a local logging operator.
Hunters saw the Quimby announcement as a double blow. They were losing
access to 23,000 acres, and those acres were the main way in to the 2,000
acres of proposed parkland set aside for them.
“Everybody perceived this as a threat,” said Bob Cram, a local
hunter and a director of the statewide hunters’ group, the Sportsmen’s
Alliance of Maine. “I did, too.”
How Ms. Quimby’s talks with the hunters’ groups will change
the landscape is unknown. Acadia and Baxter parks faced opposition before
their creation. It took decades to assemble the land and gain legislative
approval. Mr. Spalding, of Restore, said: “The opposition is very
much a minority. It is clear that the Maine public, statewide, overwhelmingly
supports the acquisition of more public land for conservation.”
For the moment, the conservation will likely continue to be ad hoc, with
individuals like Ms. Quimby, groups like the Appalachian Mountain Trail
Club and state-private partnerships raising the money for individual tracts.
These might be combined in a national park, a national forest or a state
preserve. They might also remain private, part of a checkerboard of conservation
areas and resort development.
A national park, Ms. Quimby said, is not the only solution. “I think
a national forest is a possibility, like the White Mountain National Forest,”
she said. “It has much broader usage.”
“Everyone has to give up something in a compromise,” she said.
“But you get your most important things if it’s a good compromise.”
Roxanne Quimby has been buying large tracts of land with
the goal of turning it into a park.
Proposed Maine Woods and Quimby's properties