AUGUSTA, Maine — State officials said Wednesday they have negotiated a final agreement with Roxanne Quimby to purchase thousands of acres in the Millinocket area in a deal that has helped thaw often chilly relations between sportsmen and the controversial conservationist.
After three years of negotiations, Quimby has agreed to sell slightly more than 5,000 acres north of Millinocket Lake to the state for $2.1 million. The land will be maintained as a working forest with public access for recreation.
Additionally, the state has secured conservation easements on roughly 2,850 acres near Whetstone Bridge at a cost of $500,000. That deal also guarantees public access to the land for hunting, snowmobiling and other mechanized recreation.
“As town manager and as someone who has been working on this for three years, I’m very pleased,” said Eugene Conlogue, town manager of Millinocket.
On Tuesday, the state’s Land for Maine’s Future program voted to chip in more than $760,000 to the projects. The remainder of the $2.6 million price tag will be covered by federal grants from the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Alan Stearns with the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands said the parcels “will become a multiuse playground for the people of the Millinocket area” and will help secure in perpetuity a major snowmobile corridor connecting Millinocket to Aroostook County.
“It’s a done deal,” Stearns said Wednesday afternoon. “It will take a month or two to actually have a closing as we finalize the documents.”
This latest deal between the state and Quimby — the wealthy co-founder of the Burt’s Bees product line — has its roots in Maine’s hard-fought effort to add the Katahdin Lake property to Baxter State Park back in 2006.
As part of the Katahdin Lake deal, the state secured an option to purchase more than 8,000 acres of remote timberlands east of the park.
But after further negotiations between Quimby and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the state agreed in late 2007 to allow Quimby to purchase the so-called “Wassataquoik Valley Lands.” In return, Quimby offered the state the opportunity to purchase much more accessible land or easements on property closer to Millinocket.
The original deal actually involves three parcels but only two have been completed to date. The state, Quimby and others plan to continue negotiating on the third parcel — known as the Three Rivers parcel — in March, but in the meantime Quimby has agreed to allow a snowmobile trail on the land.
For years, Quimby has generated resentment among some northern Maine sportsmen as she purchased large tracts of land and then prohibited hunting, mechanized recreation and timber harvesting.
But relations have improved significantly in recent years due, in large part, to the discussions and negotiations that spawned the current land deal.
“I think we have come to a better understanding about what is valuable to Roxanne” and vice versa, Conlogue said.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said the land deals completed this week will help secure the ITS 85 snowmobile trail, also known as the Millinocket to Matagamon trail — as well as part of ITS 83.
“It’s just incredibly important,” said Meyers, who has been part of the discussions with Quimby since 2007. “To Roxanne’s credit, she is someone who has very different ideas about what she wanted to do with her property and she has been very accommodating. She didn’t have to do this … but she realized the importance to the local community.”
Stearns said the process took so long to negotiate in part because so many programs were involved, including securing congressional authorization for funding through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.
Stearns said the state ultimately hopes to create multiuse trails suitable for ATVs on the two parcels but that will depend on gaining permission from other landowners in the area. The conservation easements on Quimby land would allow ATVs.
Stearns said the parcels’ location near Baxter State Park — where hunting, trapping and motorized recreation are prohibited or severely restricted — is also strategic.
“It’s a good buffer, but it’s a buffer that can be used for more intense recreation, unlike the much lighter use in Baxter State Park and on Roxanne Quimby’s land,” he said.
A representative for Quimby’s nonprofit, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.