ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Roxanne Quimby, the philanthropist and multimillionaire co-founder of Burt’s Bees cosmetics, is aiming high with the scope of lands she hopes to donate to the National Park Service.
And it is not just the thousands of acres that lie immediately east of Baxter State Park, in the evening shadows of Mount Katahdin, that she intends to give to the federal government. For the past decade, her landholding nonprofit foundation Elliotsville Plantation has been acquiring land on Mount Desert Island, some of which it plans to donate this year to Acadia National Park to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Acadia and the National Park Service.
Elliotsville owns more than 100 acres on MDI, including five separate tracts of land totaling more than 60 acres in Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor that are expected to be donated to the park this year.
According to the nonprofit’s tax returns, Elliotsville Plantation also has acquired lands outside Maine that are adjacent to national parks or monuments in Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Pennsylvania.
The foundation last year donated to the park service a 78-acre parcel next to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, and this year it gave a 2.45-acre parcel of land to become part of the Colorado National Monument. Glacier and Saguaro national parks and Gettysburg National Military Park also are among the foundation’s beneficiaries.
Because of her support of the national park system, Quimby was appointed in 2010 to the National Park Foundation’s board of directors, which also lists Secretary Sally Jewell of the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis among its members.
David Farmer, spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation, said the organization has a conservation mission and, though headquartered in Maine, does not limit itself to working in Maine.
Elliotsville’s land-conservation goals are “much larger than any one project,” he said.
By buying available land that is for sale and adjacent to or surrounded by existing national parks, Elliotsville is helping those parks be successful in conserving land and making sure the public has access to it, Farmer said.
Despite the stated goals of benefiting the public, efforts by Quimby and others to conserve and secure public access to land throughout the country have generated controversy.
Since 2009, President Barack Obama has “established or expanded 19 national monuments for a total of more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters, more than any previous president,” The Washington Post has reported.
Many suspect Obama plans to declare national monument status for the more than 87,000 acres Elliotsville Plantation owns in northern Penobscot County, which he can do unilaterally. Only Congress can proclaim federally owned land to be a national park.
Many residents of the Millinocket region have vocally opposed the idea of placing federal protections on the land, saying it would have an irreversible impact on access to and traditional uses of the land. People who support the idea say it would provide a significant boost to the region’s tourism industry, which would help offset the economic downturn in northern Maine brought on by the decades-long decline in paper manufacturing.
Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and the president of Elliotsville Plantation, said this month that creating a national park north of Millinocket and helping national parks and monuments nationwide to secure specific properties have been objectives of the nonprofit foundation since the outset, when it was created in 2002.
Elliotsville Plantation does not have any ulterior motive in donating land to existing park service properties in and out of Maine, he said.
“In no way was it to try to convince the National Park Service to be more favorable to our plan for the North Woods,” St. Clair said.
Phyllis Austin, a former Maine Times reporter who wrote a book about Quimby titled “Queen Bee” that was released last year, said Thursday that she interviewed Quimby multiple times between 2009 and 2011. From those interviews, Austin said, she got the sense that Quimby’s motivations in buying up land for national parks is more altruistic than egotistical or strategic.
“I think Roxanne really wants to do something for the American people and [for] land conservation,” Austin said. “I really don’t see it as ego with her.”
Elliotsville’s holdings in Hancock County
According to Austin, the scope of Elliotsville’s acquisitions expanded after Quimby met Sheridan Steele, who retired last fall after serving as Acadia’s superintendent for a dozen years.
Steele, who advocated for the creation of Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park in Colorado in 1999 and served as its superintendent before coming to Acadia in 2003, set the acquisition of privately owned inholdings in Acadia — lands located within a boundary limit that Congress set for the park in 1986 — as one of his top priorities when he moved to Maine, according to Austin.
Austin said Thursday that Quimby told her during an interview for the book that Steele put her in touch with superintendents at parks in other states Quimby was interested in.
“Sheridan Steele is like my main man,” Austin said Quimby told her.
Few objections have been raised to Elliotsville Plantation’s acquisitions on Mount Desert Island, where the 6,000-acre Sieur De Monts National Monument, the precursor to Acadia National Park, was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.
Since 2005, the foundation has acquired 101 acres on the island, spread out among nine tracts of land in four different towns. Elliotsville has paid a total of $5 million for all the property, most of which directly abuts the park’s existing boundary. The individual parcels, some of which are classified for tax purposes as tree growth properties, together have a cumulative assessed value of $1.8 million.
St. Clair said parcels that are considered inholdings in Acadia are expected be donated to Acadia this year.
Elliotsville holdings that lie outside the boundary limit, even if they abut property currently owned by the park, will be retained by Elliotsville Plantation, he added. The nonprofit foundation is not pursuing any efforts to expand the boundary of Acadia beyond the limit Congress set 30 years ago, he said.
Among the properties Elliotsville plans to donate to Acadia are:
— 32 acres at the north end of Round Pond in Mount Desert.
— A parcel smaller than 1 acre that is near Wildwood Stables in Mount Desert and is completely surrounded by the park.
— 15 acres close to the south end of Long Pond in Southwest Harbor.
— The former White Birches Campground, 9 acres in size, on Seal Cove Road in Southwest Harbor.
— Five acres of woods and wetland in Southwest Harbor that line the eastern bank of Marshall Brook.
St. Clair said Elliotsville also might subdivide two of its other parcels, one in the Tremont village of Bass Harbor and the other on Otter Cliffs Road in Bar Harbor, and donate sections of them that lie within the 1986 boundary limit to Acadia. The parts that remain outside the 1986 limit would be retained by the nonprofit foundation.
Acadia officials declined a request from the Bangor Daily News for comment about the expected donations on MDI from Elliotsville Plantation.
Durlin Lunt, town manager of Mount Desert, said this month that local officials are not concerned about the donations Elliotsville plans to make to Acadia, as long as the donations are within the boundary limit set by Congress. The donations may have a minor effect on municipal finances because some of the properties are classified as tree growth and therefore generate little tax revenue for the town, he said. Losing them from the town’s property tax rolls is not expected to put a dent in the local tax base, which is buoyed by ample oceanfront residential property.
“I don’t think we would have any objection to it,” Lunt said.
Elliotsville Plantation also owns an additional 360 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula, opposite Frenchman Bay from MDI, off Summer Harbor Road in the towns of Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor. These parcels, which Elliotsville acquired in July 2007 for $844,222, do not abut the Schoodic portion of Acadia, where last fall an anonymous donor gave 1,441 acres to the park.
Elliotsville and Acadia officials have not identified the Schoodic donor but have indicated that Quimby was not involved in acquiring or developing the property.
Farmer said Elliotsville Plantation has “no immediate plans whatsoever,” for the 360 acres it owns on the Schoodic Peninsula.
Quimby’s ties to the Schoodic Peninsula
Quimby may not be behind the acquisition and donation of the Schoodic Woods to Acadia, but she does have extensive personal connections to the peninsula beyond the properties owned by Elliotsville Plantation.
In Winter Harbor, where most of the Schoodic Woods acreage is located, Quimby personally bought 11 properties between October 1998 and April 2004, according to records on file at the Hancock County Registry of Deeds.
She sold off one of those properties in 2002 to a private owner and then in October 2004 sold her other 10 properties in the town to Seaside Partners LLC, a real estate management firm she founded.
Seaside Partners also is the legal owner of 13 properties in the neighboring town of Gouldsboro, including Quimby’s oceanfront, 28-acre Ravens Nest Farm on West Bay Road, which has an assessed value of $1.24 million. Most of Seaside Partners’ properties in Maine are undeveloped, though Quimby’s home in Portland’s upscale West End neighborhood is among the firm’s real estate holdings.
Another Quimby enterprise, Schoodic Peninsula Visitors Center LLC, operates out of a building she had built in 2002 at the corner of Main and Newman streets in Winter Harbor. A dozen years ago, the building was home to Mama’s Boy Bistro, operated by her son St. Clair. Last summer, the building housed the Raven’s Nest restaurant, which featured Quimby’s new line of pasta.
The visitors center is about a half-mile away from the road entrance to the newly acquired Schoodic Woods parcel.
Quimby and the Quimby Family Foundation do have at least one minor connection to the Schoodic land transfer to Acadia. In addition to Quimby’s membership on the National Park Foundation’s board, the Quimby Family Foundation has donated money to the park foundation which, for four months, was the intermediary owner of the donated Schoodic Woods property, having legally accepted the deed to the land from Schoodic Woods LLC in August of last year before turning it over to the National Park Service in December.
The Quimby Family Foundation gave a total of $185,000 to the National Park Foundation from 2012 through 2014, according to the foundation’s tax records from those years. In 2013 and 2014, the Quimby Family Foundation gave more money to NPF — $100,000 in 2013 and $75,000 the following year — than to any other of its dozens of recipients.
The foundation’s charitable giving, and those of Elliotsville Plantation, reflect a strong affinity that St. Clair says his family has for federally conserved, publicly accessible lands across the country, many of which they have visited multiple times. One reason they have donated to the park at Gettysburg, he said, is because his great-great-grandfather fought there in the Civil War under the command of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as a member of the 20th Maine infantry regiment.
The 100th anniversary this year of the founding of the National Park Service in 1916, and the lands it has preserved, he said, is something his family has sought to celebrate through their financial support.
“Every park [we have donated to] has a unique attachment to our family,” St. Clair said.
Austin, the author of “Queen Bee,” said the years Quimby spent living in the woods of Guilford, Maine, and her subsequent experience with Burt’s Bees have contributed significantly to her interest in creating and expanding national parks.
“She already had made something from nothing,” Austin said of Quimby’s business success. “She has a lot of confidence in what she can create and bring about.”
Austin added that Quimby has been inspired by the conservation legacies of Percival Baxter, John D. Rockefeller Jr. and George B. Dorr. If Elliotsville’s holdings in northern Penobscot County become federal land — an effort Austin does not think will be affected by Quimby’s national park donations elsewhere — Quimby’s conservation legacy arguably will rival theirs, she said.
“She wants to do something that will last,” Austin said.