EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Environmentalist Roxanne Quimby apologized Thursday for calling Maine “a welfare state” and promised private, independent studies of the effect of her proposed 70,000-acre national park upon Katahdin region forest products industries.
Responding to resident George Michaud’s statement that he didn’t know that Roxanne Quimby thought Mainers such as himself were old, fat and stupid until he read comments she made at forbes.com, Quimby immediately expressed regret for her comments.
“I sincerely apologize and I certainly do not believe that Maine people are old and fat and stupid. I have a great deal of respect for the people of Maine,” Quimby said Thursday during a National Park Regional Citizen Evaluation Committee meeting at Schenck High School.
She said that she believed that Mainers have “one of the most amazing work ethics in the entire country.”
“As a country, we suffer from a lot of chronic diseases that arise from lifestyle choices,” Quimby added in reference to her comments in a recent interview that Mainers suffered from OxyContin abuse and obesity. But Mainers have no special place among those who suffer those problems, she added.
Quimby’s words “are still out there, Roxanne,” Michaud responded. “You said the words and they are still out there.”
All Quimby could do is ask for forgiveness, she answered.
Quimby has said she hopes to give 70,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park to the park service in 2016, that agency’s 100th birthday. She would create another 30,000-acre parcel for traditional recreation and sustainable forestry, uses that would be denied in the park. A $40 million endowment Quimby would provide, including $20 million she hopes to raise with a national campaign, will cover all park maintenance and operation costs, she has said.
Thursday’s meeting was by far Quimby’s most direct public contact with opponents of her park initiative and a National Park Service feasibility study she wants done on her land. About 100 people were there, far less than had attended previous sessions.
Several speakers said they believed that a national park would grow far beyond 70,000 acres and destroy the North Woods as a supplier of industrial raw materials. Baxter State Park began decades ago as a 6,000-acre parcel and today is more than 200,000 acres, said state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, who opposes a park and feasibility study.
“Once one parcel has been added, it will be easy to add parcel after parcel until our wood basket is devastated,” Thomas said.
Quimby said she believed that the park could coexist well with existing industries. Washington state has more than 1 million acres of park land and a thriving forest products industry, she said.
Stu Kalgren, president of the Maine Leaseholders Association, discussed how years ago, when Quimby first began buying northern Maine land in large quantities, she terminated leases and kicked leaseholders off her land. He questioned whether she had Mainers’ interests at heart.
Dan O’Leary, chief executive officer of Roxanne Quimby Foundations, said that Quimby has given more than $6 million to Maine aid organizations over the last several years and rejected solicitations from organizations outside Maine because she is focused on helping Mainers.
“When people tell you that Roxanne doesn’t care about Mainers, they are not telling the truth,” O’Leary said.
Mike Bond, a Winthrop resident who lived and worked in Washington state for decades, said he couldn’t believe that anyone could oppose a feasibility study.
“There has never been a case where diversifying an economy has been harmful to people,” Bond said. “There has never been a time when the National Park Service has been an impediment to the forest products industry in Washington state.”
Calling tourism “an enormous engine” for creating jobs and drawing young people to an area, Bond said it was shameful that a study would be derided by local leaders apparently bent on using fear to realize their aims and maintain a dying forest products industry.
“It’s like saying that you want to live only on rice. Who wants to live only on rice? It is time to diversify” the economy, Bond said. “It’s like they are saying, ‘No, I want to choke the local economy.’ It is time to stop throwing these fears around and start thinking about what is best for the region.”
Thomas said the state still has the second-largest papermaking industry in the U.S. and he supports economic diversification.
Millinocket Town Councilor John Raymond, a park and study opponent, got Quimby to clarify what he has long claimed: that she does not yet own 70,000 acres she would want to donate. Quimby said she owns 59,188 acres, adding that she and her people had been “very sloppy” with the figures they have used.
“As far as the land I don’t own, I don’t feel I can make any claims for it,” Quimby said. “It was very presumptuous of me to say anything about it.”
Quimby said she decided that efforts a decade ago to create a multimillion-acre park in the North Maine Woods were “a lost cause” because the groups seeking that park had no execution plan. She said a university and a research group, which she declined to identify, were studying a park’s impact on the Katahdin region economy and the forest products industry.
One of the studies was due about three weeks ago, she said. Both would be offered to the park service for use with their study, she said.
State Rep. Herbert E. Clark, D-Millinocket, said Quimby’s latest meeting didn’t change his feelings that the area doesn’t need a national park. Quimby’s efforts still lack a great deal of needed clarity, Clark said, including which communities access roads to her land would go through.
“The roads would not go through East Millinocket, Medway or Millinocket,” Clark said. “They would more likely go through Patten or Mount Chase or those areas. It is a shame that her efforts are tearing up these towns. We ought to be working together to create jobs in these areas, and these efforts do not fit that mold.”
Quimby said she was undeterred. At the close of the two-hour meeting, Quimby said she felt the park effort was gaining momentum.
“What I am seeing is an enormous amount of interest in this proposal. I think people are coming out to these meetings because they want to know more and also because they need a vision for this region that resonates and is true,” she said.