Conservationist Roxanne Quimby has purchased another 11,000 acres east of Baxter State Park, expanding her already-sizable land holdings in the Katahdin region and potentially adding another wrinkle to the debate over her national park plan.
Quimby’s nonprofit land conservation foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., announced Wednesday that Quimby had bought 11,291 acres south of Shin Pond in T4 R7 and T5 R7.
The land, which Quimby purchased from the timberland and development company Lakeville Shores Inc., includes substantial acreage on both sides of the Seboeis River as well as Peaked Mountain. A press release from Elliotsville Plantation Inc. said the property is notable for its white-water canoeing, wild brook trout fishery, upland forests and wetlands.
A co-founder of the Burt’s Bees natural beauty products line, Quimby has used her wealth to purchase more than 100,000 acres of forestland in Maine.
The vast majority of Quimby’s land — including the most recent purchase — is located in the Katahdin region north of Millinocket and east of Baxter State Park. And it’s in that region that Quimby has made her boldest and most hotly debated move yet: a proposal to donate 70,000 acres to the federal government for the creation of a new North Woods National Park.
The Seboeis River tract is not part of the 70,000 acres Quimby hopes will become Maine’s second national park — a desire that is far from being fulfilled given the opposition to federal land ownership among some residents. But in the news release announcing the acquisition, Elliotsville Plantation Inc. suggested that the new land south of Shin Pond could play a role as Quimby seeks to build public support for her park plan.
The foundation said Quimby will allow hunting, snowmobiling and other traditional uses on the land for one year.
“Long term, the acquisition will be part of EPI’s larger plan for multiple-use motorized recreation, hunting and sustainable working forest east of the East Branch [of the Penobscot River] to balance EPI’s proposed donation of 70,000 acres west of the East Branch for a national park,” the release stated.
Mark Leathers, a resource consultant at James W. Sewall Co. who works with Quimby, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. However, Quimby reportedly has offered area snowmobile clubs five years of access to trails on her property in exchange for their support for a feasibility study of her national park proposal.
The Bowlin-Matagammon-Shin Pond Snowmobile Club is among the groups weighing Quimby’s offer. The club grooms several scenic trails within Quimby’s new tract as well as part of the ITS 114 snowmobile trail that extends into the land, according to club secretary Terry Hill, who also runs Shin Pond Village campground and cottages.
Hill declined to comment on Quimby’s new land acquisition before her club’s Oct. 20 meeting during which members will discuss whether to support a park feasibility study in return for five years of guaranteed access to trails on Quimby land.
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said the more land Quimby owns in the region “the more of a wedge she has” to put under local snowmobile clubs.
“It has put them in a terrible situation,” Meyers said.
While there has been talk about a North Woods national park for more than a decade, Quimby’s latest proposal has changed the debate considerably in a region where “Ban Roxanne” bumper stickers once were commonplace.
Quimby has picked up support from business groups, local governments and residents for at least a feasibility study by proposing a 70,000-acre park, a fraction of the size of the 3.2 million-acre park originally put forward by the group RESTORE: The North Woods.
Additionally, Quimby convinced some former naysayers that her proposal is at least worth considering through her offers to donate 30,000 acres to the state for recreational land open to hunting and snowmobiling as well as her promise to create a $20 million endowment for the national park. Only Congress, the White House or the U.S. Department of the Interior can request a park feasibility study, and then only Congress can create a new park.
Others, however, remain staunchly opposed to the federal government owning any land in a region often described as Maine’s “timber basket.” So it was not surprising that some did not welcome the news that Quimby had purchased additional land in the region.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, a vocal opponent of Quimby’s national park plan, said the latest purchase is just “her expanding her reach into this area.”
“That’s too bad. That’s a real blow,” he added. “Roxanne is trying to impose her vision on how woods should be on an area that is based on the forest products industry. We do not welcome her taking land out of that industry.”
Supporters of Quimby’s proposal, on the other hand, predict that a new national park would bring tourists and economic development to a region that is losing population and has struggled to keep open its two paper mills. They also praise Quimby for her willingness, in recent years, to reach compromises with snowmobile clubs and sportsmen’s organizations on use of her land.
BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.