AUGUSTA, Maine — Environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s land manager apparently backed off Wednesday on an implied threat to close snowmobile trails running through her lands for at least this winter if snowmobile clubs failed to support her proposed national park.
“On behalf of Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. (EPI), I’m writing to inform you that EPI intends to keep the snowmobile trails open this winter independently of whether a snowmobile club or clubs support a feasibility study of the 70,000-acre proposed national park,” Lisa Schoonmaker, communications director at James W. Sewall Co., wrote in an email Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue released Wednesday.
Schoonmaker was writing to Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. Meyers said that at meetings at snowsledding clubs in Brownville on Aug. 1 and Medway on Aug. 2, Quimby’s land manager, Mark Leathers, told club members that in exchange for letters supporting a study, they would be allowed to use trails on her land for another year.
Implied but never stated was the idea that club opposition to a study could force the partial closure or relocation of a snowmobile trail, Meyers said.
Leathers did not deny Meyers’ claims when interviewed briefly on Aug. 17. He said he did not wish to comment further because he did not want to “jeopardize our efforts to find a solution for the trail needs of the local snowmobile clubs.”
Schoonmaker and Leathers did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment on Wednesday.
Meyers said he was grateful for Quimby’s change of position.
“We are very pleased that there is no linkage to support for the park and the trails that had previously been allowed,” he said Wednesday. “The idea that somebody could threaten our clubs like this is just intolerable.”
As a private landowner, Quimby has a right to deny clubs access to her lands, Meyers said, but the clubs are complying with their agreements with her — and those pacts never included support of a national park feasibility study.
“As a matter of fact, we have received some strong expressions of support from people involved in land management and ownership,” Meyers said. “We heard from people when that story broke who were unaware of our position and very supportive, but that is people used to working in the woods who know how things work who realize that this was not going the way that it normally would.”
This incident is the third in 16 years that a landowner had threatened to cut off clubs from lands they had used, Meyers said.
He called Leathers’ implied threat “a distraction from the issue at hand, which was whether there should be a national park up there,” and added that Leathers told him the statement was made because “the snowmobile clubs were the only ones that had something that she could take away.”
Clubs have relocated ITS 85 snowmobile trail twice per Quimby’s wishes.
The association will continue to oppose a national park on Quimby’s land between the Penobscot River’s east branch and Baxter State Park, Meyers said. The reasons include the potential 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 association’s 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, the Maine Woods Coalition and the Millinocket Fin and Feather Club in opposing or expressing skepticism about Quimby’s plan.
Democratic U.S. 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.