Activists Push to Create National Park in Maine’s North Woods

Published November 2, 2015

A battle is underway over a proposal by Roxanne Quimby, the founder of skin care company Burt’s Bees, to create a new national park near Mount Katahdin in Maine’s north woods.

The proposal includes using a 70,000 acre patchwork already owned by a foundation Quimby started. The foundation’s forest lands would serve as a starter gift to the National Park Service (NPS).

Some local and national environmental lobbying groups support Quimby’s park plan, but many of Maine’s hunters and fishermen, timber workers, snowmobilers, and town councils oppose it, as does Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) and all of Maine’s representatives in Congress.

If NPS establishes a park using Quimby’s core property, history indicates federal bureaucrats over time will expand its boundaries regardless of the protests made by locals. The use of private property within the park’s initial boundaries will be sharply limited, and eventually taken with little or no compensation. Traditional uses for property in the region, such as timber harvesting, hunting, and snowmobiling, will all likely be banned. 

‘Epiphany’ Sparks Land Purchases

Quimby first met the leaders of RESTORE: The North Woods at a 1998 farm fair. They showed her RESTORE’s plan for a 3.2-million-acre Maine woods national park. She called the meeting an “epiphany” and immediately started buying land as a core for the park.

Upon buying new property, Quimby quickly kicked all the campers and hunters off the land. By contrast, the previous owners had respected the region’s decades-old custom of allowing people open access to the land for traditional pastimes, such as camping, hiking, and hunting. Quimby burned their shelters, and put up “no trespassing” signs.

Big Green Exposed

Unfortunately for Quimby, just a few years she before joined RESTORE’s crusade, environmentalists’ efforts to re-wild the region had made big news and angered people in Maine and beyond. In 1990, a consortium of 35 environmental leaders held a closed meeting at Boston’s Tufts University, deciding to join forces as the Northern Forest Alliance. The Alliance’s idea, based on a 1982 NPS study, was to nationalize and de-develop 26 million acres in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Upstate New York.

Brock Evans, a vice president of the National Audubon Society, told the Alliance, “Once that 26 million acres was all public domain, then it went to the private domain. I don’t agree that we can’t get it all back. We should get all of it. Be unreasonable.”

The meeting was recorded, and Erich Veyhl, a Maine coastal property owner, distributed it. The backlash in the region was furious. The Alliance retreated, but Michael Kellet, who left the powerful Wilderness Society to form RESTORE, pushed forward.

Following RESTORE’s vision, Quimby spent millions on public relations; held public forums; paid for numerous ads, mailings, and robocalls; commissioned polls; and made large donations to community groups to support her dream park. After years of trying to go big, Quimby finally adopted environmentalists’ often-used strategy: incrementally spread the park project over 100 years.

Quimby faded into the background, putting her son Lucas St. Clair in charge of pushing the park’s development through small steps. St. Clair recently raised the possibility of creating a national monument in the area.

LePage says he’s opposed to a federal incursion on state authority in Maine.

“The federal government is trying to make a second national park in Maine, and there are real problems with that,” said LePage at a conference.

LePage described a recent problem he had with NPS over snowmobilers having trouble getting to their camps by crossing the Appalachian Trail, a unit of the national park system. They couldn’t make their usual lake crossing because it had yet to freeze. An NPS officer called LePage and told him to issue summons to those campers for a court date. LePage refused.

“One, I’m not going to summons them,” said LePage. “Two, I encourage them to use [the trail]. And if you come to me and try to summons them, I’m going to throw you in jail.”

“And I never heard another word,” said LePage, concluding his story.

LePage will not be governor forever, and the fight for liberty and property rights is never over. My fear is St. Clair and his offspring will continue peddling his mother’s dreams for decades to come.

Ron Arnold ([email protected]) is a free-enterprise activist, author, and commentator.