Maine Snowmobile Association slams Quimby’s park effort

Roxanne Quimby talks about her plans for her land  in Millinocket recently.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Roxanne Quimby talks about her plans for her land in Millinocket recently.
Posted Aug. 17, 2011, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 18, 2011, at 1:25 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state’s largest snowmobiling organization accused environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s land manager on Wednesday of using coercive tactics to get support for a federal feasibility study of her proposed national park.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said that at meetings at snowsledding clubs in Brownville on Aug. 1 and Medway on Aug. 2, land manager Mark Leathers told club members that in exchange for letters supporting a study, they would be allowed to use trails on Quimby’s land for another year.

Implied but never stated was the idea that club opposition to a study, or to Quimby’s proposal to give 70,000 acres she owns to the federal government for a park, could force the partial closure or relocation of a snowmobile trail, Meyers said.

“It puts the clubs in a terrible position because it is a huge job to relocate one of those trails,” Meyers said Wednesday. “She has the right to do this. What we are taking exception to is her using it as a wedge to force people to do something that they didn’t necessarily want to do.”

Leathers did not deny Meyers’ claims when interviewed briefly on Wednesday. Nor would he say whether any clubs had lost access to trails that ran across Quimby lands, or whether any would.

“I don’t want to say anything that would jeopardize our efforts to find a solution for the trail needs of the local snowmobile clubs,” said Leathers, an employee of the James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town who often acts as Quimby’s spokesman on the national park plan.

Meyers’ statements followed a meeting on Tuesday in Dixmont in which the Maine Snowmobile Association’s board of directors voted unanimously to reaffirm their opposition to a national park on Quimby’s land between the Penobscot River’s east branch and Baxter State Park.

The directors cited the loss of local and state control of the area to the federal government, the loss of traditional recreational activities and the intrusions on abutting private landowners within the confines of a national park. The directors passed a similar resolution in 2001.

Created in 1968, the Maine Snowmobile Association claims more than 26,000 members, including volunteers from more than 285 Maine snowmobile clubs that maintain trails and relations with landowners who accommodate trails. More than 2,200 businesses support the association, according to its Website, mesnow.com.

The directors’ stance aligns them with Maine’s two Republican senators, the state Legislature, the Millinocket Town Council, Maine Woods Coalition and the Millinocket Fin and Feather Club in opposing or expressing skepticism about Quimby’s plan.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, Medway’s school board and Board of Selectmen, and several Katahdin region civic and business groups have supported a feasibility study, with Medway selectmen forming a committee that is leading a statewide push for the study.

Gov. Paul LePage has said he won’t yet take sides on the issue, although he has publicly expressed skepticism about it.

Access to snowmobile trails has been among the most contentious issues between Quimby, clubs and residents of northern Maine since she began buying large swaths of the North Woods more than a decade ago.

Recreation enthusiasts, many of them champions for the rights of private landowners, have condemned Quimby for the loss of access, saying it threatens livelihoods and local economies, particularly with a snowmobiling industry that generates $300 million to $350 million for Maine annually.

Quimby has responded that as a private landowner, she has the right to determine who uses her lands and is liable for damage done to those lands.

Interconnected Trail System 85, an important snowmobile conduit linking Aroostook County to southern Maine, has been relocated twice from or on Quimby property in accordance with her wishes, though not during the snowmobile season, Meyers said.

“That’s the most important trail on her lands,” Meyers said.

For snowmobilers, loss of that trail’s use during winter because of a sudden relocation “would be like shutting down the Interstate from Medway to Houlton and saying we can’t use it for a year,” Meyers said.

Meyers and his board of directors slammed Quimby and Leathers in a press statement issued Wednesday.

“We’re disappointed that Ms. Quimby and her land managers feel the need to threaten the volunteers of these snowmobile clubs with a loss of access in order to advance their agenda,” Meyers said. “Our members have the highest respect for the rights of private landowners, but to hold a gun to the heads of these volunteers is disgraceful.”

“We believe it speaks volumes to the level of support that is really out there for Quimby’s park proposal,” Meyers added. “It’s ironic that while Ms. Quimby speaks of her desire to spark economic activity in the region at public meetings, behind the scenes she and her representatives are threatening the livelihoods of dozens of small family-owned businesses in towns like Medway, Mount Chase, Patten and Brownville.”

Meyers said he emailed Quimby the day after the Medway meeting to complain about Leathers’ statements. He said he never heard back. He said he found Leathers’ approach and Quimby’s nonresponse troubling, given the history between snowmobilers and Quimby.

“That’s the other thing that really bothered me. During the past 10 years in which she has owned land up there the clubs have just been uniformly respectful of her and accommodating to her,” Meyers said. “That’s why I felt that this was a real slap in the face.”

Quimby is due to attend a town meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Medway Middle School to discuss her proposal. That is 2½ hours after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis will visit Stearns High School in Millinocket to hear about that plan.

Meyers said he will not attend the meetings.

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