MEDWAY, Maine — Environmentalist and conservationist Roxanne Quimby has offered snowmobile clubs five years of access to snowmobile trails on her lands in exchange for support for her national park plan in an offer that plan opponents call coercive and divisive.
At least two of the snowmobile clubs involved are mulling the proposal, which calls for the clubs to write letters supporting Quimby’s national park plan and associated feasibility study in exchange for her allowing them the extended access, said several club members and Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association and a park opponent.
The five years are about double what the present agreement allows.
Quimby pitched her plan to Katahdin and Brownville area clubs at the East Branch Sno-Rovers Snowmobile Club’s clubhouse on Sunday, Sept. 18, Meyers and club members said.
“Either [club members] have made up their minds or they are waiting to have meetings or to see what happens,” Meyers said Friday. “I haven’t talked to one yet that doesn’t resent the way this is being done.”
“There are a dozen clubs affected and some have said no and some have said yes,” he added.
Lisa Schoonmaker, communications director for James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town, declined to comment on the issue Friday. Sewall Co. helps manage Quimby’s land holdings and typically acts as her spokesman in the campaign for a national park. Quimby did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
Quimby proposes to give about 70,000 acres she owns adjoining Baxter State Park to the National Park Service in 2016 — an act of generosity she said she hopes to be part of her legacy.
The park would be nearly twice the size of Acadia National Park. Sportsmen would get another 30,000 acres north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.
Meyers touched off a firestorm on Aug. 17 when he announced that Quimby’s land manager, Mark Leathers of Sewall Co., told snowmobile club members at meetings in Brownville on Aug. 1 and Medway on Aug. 2 that in exchange for letters supporting a study, they would be allowed to use trails on Quimby’s land for another year.
At least implied was the threat that club access would be denied without the letters.
Several club members who attended the meeting verified that account. Leathers did not deny it, and one study supporter said he doubted that the threat came from Quimby.
Quimby has a right to do with her land what she pleases, opponents said, but the trails on her property near Baxter State Park and Brownville are key connections to networks statewide upon which the state’s $350 million snowmobile industry depends.
The clubs also have honored their agreements with Quimby, and the agreements say nothing about favoring a national park, members said.
After the early August meetings, Quimby wrote an email retracting an announcement from Schoonmaker that the clubs would have another year of access to Quimby’s lands. In her correction, Quimby said she favored a more permanent solution to access issues.
Dave Ramsey, president of the 50-member Brownville Snowmobile Club, said his club’s board of directors will meet on Oct. 11 to discuss Quimby’s latest proposal.
“I would love to say things now but I don’t think I am entitled,” Ramsey said.
An email from Sno-Rovers vice president Brian Wiley sent before last Sunday’s meeting assured club members that Quimby’s proposal was not coercive. It reminded them that no news media or governmental officials were invited to the private meeting, which would be “monitored for confidentiality reasons.”
Rodney Washburn, a member of the Brownville club’s board of directors and past club president, said Quimby had no problems with club members or their use of the trails until she needed support for her park plan.
“We have always had good relations with them,” Washburn said of Quimby’s land managers, calling access to the trails something “she is using as leverage for her park.”
“I am not really in favor of the park,” Washburn added. “I don’t really know what would be a big draw to bring people to this area. We already have a park up there [Baxter]. I am afraid the costs would be prohibitive. It would just be a burden on the state and federal government.”
A plan opponent, Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, said Sunday’s meeting was among several held by Quimby or plan proponents recently in which local officials and plan opponents were barred. Meyers agreed.
“This is a typical and expected divide-and-conquer technique that drives wedges between people, organizations and communities,” Conlogue said. “It almost always has a negative impact. Sometimes it creates a backlash against people who perpetrate the division.”
The Millinocket downtown business association’s support for a feasibility study of Quimby’s national parks plan and the association’s announcement of its support before the Millinocket Town Council’s vote opposing the study were among the reasons councilors cited in a meeting last month at which they decided to withdraw funding for the association.
The association has begun soliciting private funding, association members said.
Millinocket’s council was the first local government to oppose the study. Councilors said they felt a park would imperil the region’s forest products industry and efforts to revitalize the region’s two paper mills.
Medway’s school committee and Board of Selectmen are the only government bodies statewide that have publicly declared support for a park study, as has Millinocket’s downtown business association and the Katahdin Region Chamber of Commerce.
U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage, Millinocket’s council, the Fin and Feather Club and state snowmobile association are among the groups that have voted to oppose or expressed skepticism about Quimby’s initiative, through which she hopes to create a Maine Woods National Park.
“The thing with the snowmobile clubs is, she is entitled to put together any meeting she would want to have,” Conlogue said. “I would hope whatever she proposes is taken under advisement and considered very carefully, because it has impact far beyond the clubs.”
Meyers feared that Quimby’s tactics would pit clubs against each other and make the fragile coalition of volunteer trail groomers more difficult to maintain.
“What we take real issue with is this business of trying to coerce clubs into supporting this. We think that’s reprehensible,” Meyers said, referring to his association’s board of directors. “What have these people ever done to her except be incredibly respectful? And this is what they get in return?”
“I think it speaks volumes as to what her motives are,” Meyers said. “If this park is such a great idea, why does she have to do things like this?”