It appears that philanthropist and entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby is finally getting her wish. Nearly 90,000 acres of land she owns east of Baxter State Park have been transferred to the federal government as of Tuesday morning. Quimby has been hoping to create a national park, and more recently a national monument in Maine’s North Woods, for nearly 20 years.
Thursday marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and Quimby has long hoped to have the land she owns in the Katahdin region designated as a national park or a national monument in place for that celebration.
In an interview with MPBN in 2011, Quimby said, “I would like to have a resource that is available to all Americans, my children and all children, to enjoy for the future.:
Neither Quimby nor her son, Lucas St. Clair could be reached for comment about the land transfer, which was made public on the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds website in more than half a dozen separate transactions. St. Clair is the president of Elliotsville Plantation Inc, the non-profit foundation that has been spearheading the park effort for the past several years. Quimby herself stepped away from the spotlights and from speaking publicly about her plans. She’d become a lightning rod for opponents who fear increased interference from the federal government and worry that a national park or monument will further erode the economic future of the forest products industry and change the character of the Katahdin region.
Sam Huston of Ragged Lake was among those who turned out in East Millinocket for a meeting with the Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in May.
Huston said he doesn’t like the way the government runs things, especially national parks.
“Yellowstone, it’s a zoo,” says Houston. “I’ve been to Glacier National Park, it’s a zoo, not as bad as Yellowstone. They can’t fund and take care of the parks they got now because they’re in debt. They couldn’t keep an ant farm running. Just keep the hell, the government out of this state. Let the state run the things!”
Quimby’s gift to the federal government includes a $40-million dollar endowment to maintain the lands. But giving it away hasn’t been as easy as it might seem. A national park can only be created with congressional approval and members of Maine’s delegation have never been completely on board. A national monument can be designated by order of the president. And on his recent visit, Park Director Jarvis said there are three criteria that a park or monument must meet:
“That’s suitability, feasibility and significance and this particular property meets all three of those criteria quite well,” says Jarvis.
Jarvis also said local support for the project is key as well. Local supporters turned out in force for a congressional field hearing organized by Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin recently.
Local communities remain divided over the idea. Reached at the Millinocket Town Office Tuesday afternoon, Town Councilor Charlie Pray says he’s disappointed that it looks like an announcement about the monument declaration is forthcoming from the White House.
“It kind of feeds into the perception that a lot of people have that money buys access,” Pray says. “Money bought access to the National Park Advisory Board. Money bought access to the White House and the wealthy get what they want.”
Quimby has had a seat on the board of directors of the National Park Foundation for the past six years and has recently donated several hundred acres she owns to national parks around the country, including Acadia in Maine.
For Lisa Pohlmann of the Natural Resources Council of Maine a national monument twice the size of Acadia would be a fabulous gift for the entire country but especially for a region of the state that has seen paper mills shuttered and hundreds of jobs lost.
“You know, I’ve been up there numerous times. It’s beautiful,” Pohlmann says. “It’s got this wonderful collection of mountains and forest and wildlife and we all know that it would be quite a nice boon to a badly hit area which is the Katahdin region. They need some economic help up there and this could really do the trick.”
Back in her 2011 interview Roxanne Quimby talked about her personal reasons for pursuing the park idea:
“I think that as you age, and I’m in my 60’s now, you start thinking about well, what did I do while I was here? How are people going to remember me when I’m not here? And I think this is my way of creating a legacy and convincing myself that it was important that I got to live on this earth for as long as I have been able to.”
Quimby said that she’d prefer that her land be designated as a national park because it would mean that her vision for hiking, paddling and conserving the North Woods would have public support. But if that couldn’t happen, she said that a national monument with all the same benefits, would be a nice Plan B.