Snowmobilers can have access to trails on environmentalist Roxanne Quimby’s land on a yearly basis if the snowmobile clubs that maintain them submit letters seeking permission, Quimby said Monday.
A recent message to the dozen clubs that take care of the trails from Mark Leathers, a land manager at James W. Sewall Co., which manages Quimby’s land holdings, indicated that Quimby had received some support from the clubs for her offer of five years’ access in exchange for letters of support for a feasibility study of her national park plan, but not enough clubs to make the offer viable, said Bob Meyers, Maine Snowmobile Association president.
Quimby wants snowmobile clubs’ support for her proposal to give the National Park Service 70,000 acres adjacent to Baxter State Park, but some critics, Meyers among them, have said they found her methods coercive.
Meyers said snowmobilers are grateful for access to her lands, over which run trails that are key connections within the state snowmobile trail network, which typically produces $350 million in revenue annually.
“We view her like any other landowner. It is her right to do whatever she wants to do with her land, but once you start talking about turning land over to the government, it becomes everybody’s issue,” Meyers said Monday. “We are sorry to see the access to this land being used as a bargaining chip in the whole process.”
Snowmobile club members play a vital role in Maine’s snowmobile industry by grooming and maintaining trails enjoyed by residents and tourists from around the world.
In a statement released Monday on her behalf, Quimby expressed gratitude to the clubs that supported her five-year offer.
“We are pleased that almost half of the clubs we spoke with are supportive of looking into a national park as a way to build a strong, diversified economy in the Katahdin region — and we look forward to continuing to listen in good faith to people who still have concerns,” Quimby said.
“In the meantime, like every other private landowner, we request written permission and proof of insurance on an annual basis. That is standard operating procedure. I hope people have a safe sledding season and come from across the country to spend their money with Katahdin area businesses,” she added. “There is no more beautiful part of the world.”
Meyers said he was unsure how many clubs supported Quimby’s five-year offer but was told that five clubs supported it and that seven rejected or took no position on it.
Matthew Polstein’s Twin Pines Snowmobile Club was among the five that favored the feasibility study and Terry Hill’s Bowlin-Matagamon-Shin Pond Snowmobile Club was among those that took no position on it or Quimby’s park plan.
To club president Polstein, a vote favoring a study was “a no-brainer,” while Hill, a club secretary, expressed relief that her 56-member club never had a chance to vote on Quimby’s five-year proposal before its withdrawal.
“From our perspective, we want to know what the numbers are and we think there’s a real possibility that a feasibility study will show that the forest products industry can still be vibrant and that the tourism and recreation industries can see a needed boost,” said Polstein, whose club has a half-dozen members, mostly employees at his recreational businesses just outside Millinocket who help him groom the club’s trails.
“It’s not about garnering Roxanne’s support or anything like that,” he said of his club’s support of a study. “It is about doing something we think is logical.”
Hill emailed Quimby’s employees for permission to use her land and said she was assured that it would be forthcoming.
“It is a better place to be. It’s where we should be, each individual club asking for permission. That’s the way it has always been done,” Hill said. “You might say that five years was better than one year, but it [the park and feasibility study issue] was tearing the clubs apart.”
Her club, Hill said, never had a landlord seek support on a political issue in exchange for use of the landlord’s property.
“Members had different opinions of it,” she said. “If you took a vote on it, the club would be divided one way or another and doing it under duress, in a sense. So it wasn’t something we wanted to be in the middle of.”
Polstein feels differently. All sides could benefit from a feasibility study, he said.
“Instead of just opposing it, if the critics of a park take an active role in shaping the study, it could help answer a lot of their questions,” Polstein said. “I don’t see [a study] as a tool of the park supporters; I see it as a tool of the park critics to have their questions legitimately answered.”
A northern Maine economic development study proposed by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, into which an examination of a park’s economic impact would be folded, would be equally welcome, Polstein said.
“Let’s see,” Polstein said, “if we get the same information” from both.