Roxanne Quimby’s family has withdrawn its proposal to build a 70,000-acre national park adjacent to Baxter State Park, her son Lucas St. Clair said Tuesday.
The family would still like to see a national park in northern Maine, but has withdrawn its proposal submitted to the National Park Service and is pursuing other options, St. Clair said.
“That proposal is not on the table any more,” St. Clair, president of the board of the Quimby Family Foundation, said during a telephone interview. “There is no specific park proposal, so we are continuing to evaluate the potential uses of our lands. We are listening to hunters and all the other stakeholders of northern Maine. We are not talking about whether you are for or against the park. The essential question is: How can we best protect these lands for the future generations of Maine?”
“It is not that we don’t want [a park]. It is that we want to have all the stakeholders in mind and to come up with a package. We own acreage that goes beyond 70,000 acres,” St. Clair added, “and we want [to develop] a package of uses that make sense for a wider group of people, representing the wider interests of Maine.”
Quimby did not immediately return an email seeking comment sent Tuesday.
St. Clair said a national park “is a component of [their plans], absolutely. We feel like there is so much equity in a national park. It is one of the things we are considering as we put together everybody’s best ideas for the best use for the land. We don’t have all the best ideas.”
A noted entrepreneur and environmentalist, Quimby in March 2009 proposed building a 70,000-acre national park on her land adjoining Baxter State Park as a gift to the nation in 2016, but the proposal ran into almost total opposition politically. Most recreation and forest products industry groups opposed it. Support came from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, and the town of Medway, though a survey commissioned by a park support group claimed 60 percent of Mainers favored a national park.
The specific proposal to the National Park Service was pulled in September, St. Clair said. Efforts to reach park service spokesmen were not immediately successful Tuesday.
Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers, a park opponent, welcomed helping the Quimby family reshape its plans but doubted the park idea would really ever go away.
“The national park idea has been around for more than 20-plus years and I don’t see it going away,” Meyers said Tuesday. “I think every time it has raised its head there has been this groundswell of public opposition to it. At what point do the people proposing these things say, ‘Gee, I guess this is just a nonstarter up there?’”
Millinocket interim Town Manager Charles Pray, a park opponent, said he wants to evaluate the new development before he does anything else.
“I am never one to close doors,” Pray said. “I think the issue has been long-stated by what I will call ‘traditional Mainers,’ those who wanted to protect their traditional [land] uses. A lot of those who expressed concerns or reservations were saying [they feared] they would lose traditional uses that had been part of the local culture for decades.”
Given Quimby’s opposition to hunting, forestry and motorized recreation and other traditional uses on her land, Pray said, Quimby essentially violated at least the spirit of Maine tree growth tax structure, which gave tax breaks to landowners that kept their lands open to hunting and forestry.
“I have to see what they are really attempting to reach out for,” Pray said of St. Clair and Quimby. “Are they being totally candid about what their plans are? Has Roxanne, for example, changed her feelings about allowing people to hunt on her lands?”
St. Clair declined to say what uses would be allowed on Quimby lands, but he said he has for the last several weeks talked with leaders in the recreation and tourism industries besides Meyers. He described the outreach as courtesy calls informing some of them of Quimby’s latest land purchase or telling them the foundation welcomed their ideas.
Jym St. Pierre, leader of the effort to build a 3.2 million-acre national park in the Katahdin region called RESTORE: The North Woods, said Quimby’s new stance won’t change his position ― the woods need to be protected permanently with a park.
“I haven’t talked to them about this,” St. Pierre said. “I would get they are recalibrating their campaign. Roxanne has been very clear as to what her goal is, which is to see that land permanently protected. It is her land and she can do what she wants to with it.”
“Maybe temporarily they are changing their course, but I think in the long term the goal remains to have the land protected,” he added.
Much of the controversy surrounding Quimby began with her first land purchases more than 10 years ago, when she often fenced off old logging trails and banned hunting and other uses on her lands. Though she allows more passive recreational uses, such as hiking and bird watching, on her lands, she was among the first landowners to put nature first in her priorities, which drew her accolades nationally.
The park proposal followed a similar pattern. It drew national attention and endorsements from some national groups, such as the Sierra Club, but was seen as divisive locally.
Medway’s pro-park stance contrasted with Millinocket’s and East Millinocket’s opposition. Millinocket Town Council unanimously opposed the park, while East Millinocket’s selectmen awaited election results that showed most townspeople opposed a study of the park’s feasibility before following suit.
The park proposal’s critics feared federal control and park regulations would stifle the forest products industry and said a park would provide few economic benefits to the Katahdin region. Proponents said the park would bolster the economy, fit well with existing industries and that the park service was the best liked of all federal agencies.