BANGOR, Maine — Ever since millionaire preservationist Roxanne Quimby began buying huge chunks of Maine forestland more than a decade ago, recreational users of that land have struggled with the new reality: Their former quasi-public playground was largely closed for business.
On Monday, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the company that oversees Quimby’s lands in Maine, made a landmark announcement saying that it would immediately open 40,000 acres to hunting and other “traditional” activities, and would also open another 60,000 to low-impact recreational pursuits. In addition, a snowmobile trail is being built and an 18-mile loop road on EPI property is open, allowing access to previously inaccessible land.
Welcome to the new, new reality.
The lands that are being opened to hunting are on parcels east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and southwest of Baxter State Park near Greenville and Monson. The EPI lands west of the East Branch, which abut Baxter State Park, are targeted for nonhunting recreational use.
Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, is the president of the board of EPI. He said the group is still working toward the formation of a national park, but said since he became president of the board in 2011, he has worked toward building alliances that had not existed before.
After many Mainers opposed a national park proposal, and the Maine congressional delegation backed away from the plan, St. Clair said it was time for some soul-searching.
“The community really needs to accept the idea and actually be part of creating the idea for there to be buy-in,” St. Clair said. “Without buy-in from the local community, our congressional delegation will never accept it, and without support from our congressional delegation, there’s no way it’ll become a bill.”
With that realization, St. Clair began meeting with any stakeholders he could.
“The input was, it’s really important to be able to have access for hunting and fishing and snowmobiling and the heritage of the north woods of Maine really revolves around that,” St. Clair said.
And he admits that the fact that he views the outdoors a lot differently than his mother was another key factor in the move to open up land to what some call “traditional” activities.
“I have much more of an appetite for it, being a sportsman myself. I grew up in Guilford, Maine. My father was and still is an avid outdoorsman, and I grew up hunting and fishing with him,” St. Clair said. “I think a lot of people really didn’t understand — they know who my mom is. They know that her relationship with the out of doors is much more as a preservationist, and she doesn’t hunt and doesn’t align herself with sportsmen’s values. I certainly do, so I have much more of an appetite to create an environment where that is acceptable and allowed.”
“They’re listening,” said Don Kleiner, executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. “For the first time since any of this started, Elliotsville clearly is listening to the local people.”
Quimby, the millionaire co-founder of Burt’s Bees natural cosmetics company, has been purchasing thousands of acres of Maine forestland since 2000, with the goal of donating it to the federal government for use as a national park.
In a fact sheet distributed with the press release announcing the Katahdin Woods and Waters Project, EPI said its future plans for the “East Branch Lands” may still include a national park or other federal use.
“EPI is discussing the potential of creating a National Park and National Recreation Area by donating its land to the American people,” according to the sheet. “The National Park would be located west of the East Branch [of the Penobscot River] and the National Recreation Area would be located east of the East Branch.
The two areas would total as much as 150,000 acres, which would be evenly split. Hunting would be allowed in the National Recreation Area.
Kleiner said the Maine guides he represents have a formal policy opposing a national park, but said conversations with St. Clair and EPI continue.
“Lucas has been invited to our next board meeting. It will be a fascinating conversation,” Kleiner said. “But I would say that most of the folks that I’m talking to are still very nervous about any kind of a federal presence.”
Terry Hill, proprietor of Shin Pond Village, a complex that includes a campground, cottages, a store and restaurant, said her business relies on recreational access for hunting and snowmobiling.
The EPI project re-establishes that access, and will help the business immediately, Hill said.
“It was devastating at first [when access was limited several years ago],” Hill said. “It was devastating to hear that we could no longer hunt, snowmobile or have vehicle access to that land.”
Hill said she has always been against establishing a national park in the northern woods of Maine, and has not yet changed her mind. But she said she appreciated the fact that St. Clair and EPI were willing to take the steps they did on Monday.
“It’s a complete turnaround, as far as the attitude [of EPI],” Hill said. “Working with Lucas is wonderful. He listens to our concerns and some of our needs. He’s met some of our needs. It’s pretty exciting for us.”
Key components of the Katahdin Woods & Waters Project plan
— Beginning this week, all “No Hunting” signs will be removed on 40,000 acres of EPI land, some located east of the East Branch of the Penobscot near Shin Pond, Patten and Stacyville, and some located southwest of Baxter State Park between Greenville, Monson and Brownville Junction.
— Access for other types of recreation are being opened on 60,000 acres of EPI land between Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot.
— A series of logging roads on that 60,000-acre parcel have been improved and connected to form an 18-mile loop road that will be open to public access. Four-wheel drive is required on the road at this point.
— Habitat will be managed to benefit ruffed grouse and deer.
— A significant ATV trail near Shin Pond and Patten has been reopened.
— EPI representatives are working with local snowmobile clubs to permanently guarantee access to critical trails that connect Millinocket, East Millinocket, Patten, Shin Pond and Matagamon.
— Existing logging roads will be open to wilderness hiking and mountain biking.
— An ambassador program calls for Mark and Susan Adams to provide information to visitors from Lunksoos Camps. The Adamses will also make upgrades to the property and clear new hiking trails.
Kleiner said his group is still curious about certain aspects of the project.
“One of my concerns, and I have told Lucas [this], is it’s hard for me to imagine how you can could memorialize this in law so [new access] would be in perpetuity,” Kleiner said. “I was pretty blunt and said, ‘Show me the language.’ Consider again, they’re still talking about the National Park Service managing [this], which is not a friend of either motorized access or hunting.”
Rick LeVasseur, president of the Jo Mary Riders Snowmobile Club and chair of the Maine Snowmobile Trail Fund Advisory Council, said he has long supported the vision of a national park on EPI lands. He welcomed Monday’s announcement.
“I’m very much in favor of what [EPI] is doing right now, the fact that they’re reopening the land to recreational usage, and [the fact that] the land east of the river will be open to hunting,” LeVasseur said. “All the people up in that area are going to benefit from having that area reopened.”