Mainers believe deeply in the rights of individual property owners. Unless the property owner is Roxanne Quimby.
Quimby has become as important a player in the Maine North Woods as any paper company executive. But to many of those who enjoy snowmobiling, riding ATVs, fishing, canoeing and hunting in those privately owned woods, she is regarded as the enemy. Yet the decision-making rights of the paper company executive, whose name and face were not known to most North Woods recreational users, were easily granted. Not so for Quimby.
If Quimby planned to aggressively harvest the trees on the tens of thousands of acres she now owns, or if she wanted to sell portions for so-called kingdom estates, it seems area residents would defend her right to do so. But since her vision is to conserve land and encourage the development of a park, she is resisted.
When she first began purchasing large tracts of land about 10 years ago, Quimby was unapologetic, perhaps even strident, in her commitment to move forward with plans to expand Baxter State Park or establish a North Woods national park. She had every right to do so, and persuasive arguments could be made that her plans could spur significant economic activity for the region.
In recent years, she has moderated her position and worked to develop ways for the recreational uses of former paper company land to continue. She has been reasonable in meeting with those who worry they will no longer enjoy the access they’ve had to this privately owned land (even as she adds to, at her own expense, the size of public parcels).
But she has not relented in the pursuit of her vision. That vision has come into clearer focus. At a recent meeting in Millinocket, she talked about her plan to donate land to widen the Appalachian Trail corridor, give land to Native Americans in the Sebec area and designate a nearby tract for recreational use. She also wants to open a writer’s retreat on the East Branch of the Penobscot River in honor of Henry David Thoreau.
“I think … that only through really good discussion and good cooperation can we identify the bottom-line needs of all parties and then work for a solution,” Quimby told those at the meeting, explaining her goals. That sentiment far exceeds what residents of the region could have expected to hear from the board of directors if a multinational corporation owned the land.
Rather than suspect the worst of her, residents should take her up on her offer to achieve mutual goals. They won’t always see eye-to-eye, but Quimby has proven that she will at least listen, and sometimes, compromise. Given the recent developments on the future of papermaking in the Millinocket region, it may be the best bet for the area.