BANGOR, Maine — The company owned by Roxanne Quimby’s family transferred more than 87,000 acres to the federal government on Tuesday, strongly indicating President Barack Obama soon will designate a North Woods national monument.
Susan F. Bulay, Penobscot County register of deeds, confirmed the 13 deeds passing 87,563 acres from Elliotsville Plantation Inc. to what was listed simply as “The United States of America” came in at 10:10 a.m.
Copies of the deeds indicate the land is situated east of Baxter State Park. The deeds for the individual parcels were signed by Quimby as the grantor and by Rachel McManus, deputy realty officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, as the grantee.
The total acreage is nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Jeffrey Olson, spokesman for National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, said “the documents that were filed speak for themselves.”
When asked to clarify, Olson added, “I have no announcement at this time related to any national monument.”
Keith Maley, White House director of regional media, declined to comment on Tuesday. Attempts to contact Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, and Elliotsville Plantation were not immediately successful Tuesday.
North Woods monument foe Gov. Paul LePage had a predictably tart response to the news.
“That’s one way to get out of paying taxes to the state of Maine,” LePage said in a statement on Tuesday. “It’s also an ego play for Roxanne Quimby and Sen. Angus King. It’s sad that rich, out-of-state liberals can team up with President Obama to force a national monument on rural Mainers who do not want it. As I’ve said all along, the fix is in.”
Obama’s anticipated executive order creating the monument is expected to bring many new jobs to the Katahdin region, an area decimated by the collapse of the paper industry. The monument designation also will help millionaire Quimby realize her dream to leave a legacy of land available for public use that one day could become a national park.
No one has studied the potential impact of the new monument on Maine, but monuments in other states have helped their communities. A study performed by the national advocacy group Small Business Majority indicated that 10 monuments created by the Obama administration have had an economic impact of $156 million since he began designating them in 2011.
Maine’s monument opponents, and some residents from other states who have monuments as neighbors, have said monuments bring unwanted federal authority that can damage local autonomy and industries. Residents near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument declared an economic state of emergency in 2015, blaming federal policies for depressing their economy and leading to a steep drop in school population. President Bill Clinton created that monument about 20 years ago.
A North Woods monument would be the nation’s 151st since 1906 and the 25th Obama has designated since 2011, according to a National Park Service listing. Of the nation’s 59 national parks, 36 began as monuments, including Acadia National Park.
Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents, under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, can create monuments simply by writing an executive order.
Language in the deeds indicates some of the land is subject to certain restrictions. Of the 13 deeded parcels, seven totaling about 33,311 acres have stipulations allowing hunting but not trapping or bear hunting with bait and dogs. Four deeds totaling 14,800 acres mention snowmobiling as an allowed activity. Another five deeds of 52,400 acres mention none of those permitted activities, suggesting an executive order would conform to Quimby’s proposal to create a national monument and a nearby accompanying multiuse recreational area.
If the deeds transfer does signal the monument designation, the president’s announcement would be the culmination of a campaign that began at least a year ago. A lobbyist employed by Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, began working with National Park Service and White House officials in April 2015.
Several of the deeds include sections titled “Reservations and Covenants” that also seem to set the stage for a national monument designation. Among those: Quimby and Elliotsville Plantation have reserved the right to “construct, establish and locate a visitor contact station” on one of the parcels.
Quimby’s quest to federally protect Maine’s northern woods took root more than a decade ago, when she began buying land near Baxter State Park in 2001. Quimby announced for the first time publicly in 2011 some of the details of her dream — that she intended to donate about 70,000 family-owned acres east of Baxter as a national park.
St. Clair took control of the campaign late the next year, after it drew almost universal opposition from local and state government, sportsmen’s and forest products industry groups but applause from several environmental and business organizations.
Proponents said a park would generate 400 to 1,000 jobs, be maintained by $40 million in private endowments, diversify a Katahdin-region economy devastated by the closure of two paper mills, coexist with traditional industries and operate with local oversight.
Opponents argued that a park would bring unwanted federal encroachment into Maine, cramp forest products industries with tighter air-quality restrictions, generate only low-paying jobs and restrict sportsmen’s access to the Katahdin region.
Despite a debate in which both sides spoke past each other almost constantly, St. Clair earned more endorsements. And a May 2015 poll of 500 residents in Maine’s northern congressional district showed that 67 percent favored a park.
But that was not enough to spur a bill from U.S. Sens. King and Susan Collins or U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents southern Maine, supports the park and monument, but lawmakers traditionally write bills for their own areas.
King effectively revived the park debate. Millinocket officials disclosed in February 2015 that he had sought their requirements for a park should congressional delegates write legislation seeking one. That brought about special elections later that year, in which East Millinocket and Medway residents strongly opposed the park. Patten voters opposed the park and monument in April.
State Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, on Tuesday described the opposition to a monument as “overwhelming.”
“It’s disappointing that the Obama administration appears poised to take this unilateral action regardless of the negative consequences that may occur in Maine’s forest products industry, and despite the overwhelming opposition to it among those who will be most affected regionally,” Thibodeau said in a statement.
Maine House Speaker Mark Eves disagreed with Thibodeau, calling the transfer “a positive sign that we are moving closer to a national monument that will provide a tremendous opportunity to spur economic development in the region.
“It is important that the federal government pull together a stakeholder group of people who know this area best and can shape its implementation. People need to come together, and we need leaders who will facilitate a dialogue between all sides,” said Eves, D-North Berwick.
Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, has long been an opponent of the monument designation and sponsored a bill for LePage this year that sought to stop the project. The bill passed and was signed by LePage, but Stanley said it is “moot” at this point unless the state tries to challenge the designation in court.
“A lot of people in the area had their hopes set on it,” he said. “I’m a property rights person, and [Quimby has] got the right to do what she wants with her own property. The way I look at it, let’s move on and look for something positive about it. Let’s move in a direction that is beneficial to the area.”
The shadow of Quimby, a self-made millionaire, has hung over both the park and monument campaigns. Her tendency to evict leaseholders and prevent hunting and snowmobiling on her lands since she started buying them quickly drew the disapproval of Mainers long used to “traditional-rights access” — a term for residents’ use of privately owned land for their own recreation.
Quimby typically denies forestry, hunting, snowmobiling, all-terrain vehicle riding and similar activities on her lands but does allow hiking and other passive recreation activities.
Some said Quimby merely was among the first of a new breed of Maine landowner, a private investor unconnected to the forest-products industry, which for decades allowed leased cabins and recreation in working forests.
Quimby, they said, was a devout environmentalist responding to a deteriorating world ecology. Her wealth would be used for the greater good by her seeking to preserve as much of the approximately 10 million acres of Maine North Woods — the largest tract of undivided woodlands east of the Mississippi River — as she could.
St. Clair placed the family’s total investment at about $100 million.
Proponents wondered why the Katahdin region would hesitate to embrace something that generates economic activity. It didn’t help her campaign that public trust of the federal government is at record lows, at least according to one Gallup poll. The single greatest reason the park campaign bill has yet to be written may be that distrust remains so strong.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.