MEDWAY, Maine – Lisa McLaughlin and her husband were hunting, driving their pickup truck along an old logging road in Bowerbank in southern Piscataquis County last month, when she told her husband to head for a favorite spot.
“I said, ‘Let’s take a left this time,’ and he said, ‘Look, there’s a gate.’ It was a big yellow gate across the road,” McLaughlin said. “My husband, who works for the Pelletiers [logging company], said, ‘Roxanne Quimby owns that land. She doesn’t let anybody hunt there anymore.’”
McLaughlin is among residents and leaders who say they are glad that the Quimby family has dropped its proposal to build a 70,000-acre national park adjoining Baxter State Park. But with a park seemingly off the table, they are concerned about what the Quimby family will decide to do next with the land.
Clint Linscott, chairman of the East Millinocket Board of Selectmen, said he hopes that shelving the park plan doesn’t have dire consequences for the Katahdin region.
“It’s her land. I don’t know what she is up to and she can do with it what she wants,” Linscott said. “My biggest concern is outdoor recreation. I hope she will be able to continue to cooperate with the outdoor recreation [industry].”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-North Haven, supports a park, but said that Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, was taking the right approach by pulling the park proposal off the table, which he did in September.
“I continue to believe that a national park could bring some significant economic development to the area in a way that takes traditional uses into consideration,” Pingree said in a statement, “but it’s not a process that can or should be rushed.”
St. Clair said he cannot offer specifics on what his family’s next move or proposal will be because there aren’t any. He plans to spend the next several months holding low-key meetings with stakeholders, he has said.
“I’m glad that the supporters of a park are taking the time to talk to the people who would be affected so they can come up with a proposal that works for the Millinocket area, for the region and for the state,” Pingree said. “It’s the right approach.”
A 48-year-old store clerk and East Millinocket resident, McLaughlin doubted that she would ever support Quimby. She said she fears that more land will be closed off to hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and other traditional activities that people in the Katahdin region have enjoyed for decades.
“I don’t know her,” McLaughlin said, referring to Quimby. “Maybe she is a good person, but does she know how many people she makes mad with what she does?”
One of the essential differences between Quimby and her opponents is they generally favor hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding. She usually bans most of those activities from her land, but allows some snowmobile trails.
“I think that the park we have here is enough,” said Patty Sheehan, a 54-year-old Millinocket resident. “I just really want my friends to be able to snowsled wherever they want.”
Quimby has said she generally favors what her opponents call environmental preservationism: leaving the forest pristine and accessible only for passive uses such as hiking and bird-watching.
She also has said all landowners have a right to control their own land.
Her opponents agree. One of the ironies of the situation is that they are, generally, supportive of landowner rights. But they also say that banning people from her land, which sometimes leaves some other parcels inaccessible, does economic harm and is an affront to northern Maine culture.
East Millinocket Selectman Mark Scally said he wondered whether the failure of the national park plan would compel Quimby to seek to incorporate her lands into Baxter State Park.
“Why did it have to be a national park? If she is doing it just for land conservation, she could have that with Baxter,” Scally said. “If she is doing this for [egotistical purposes], she should just come out and say so.”
Mike McLain, who lives on Ambejesus Lake, doubted that the national park idea would ever go away.
“You’ve got to look at what happens five or 10 years from now. You never know,” McLain said. “It could be down the road when things happen. You never know.”