by Susan Sharon
MPBN news story
Backers of a possible national park in Maine’s North Woods made a grand gesture to some of their longtime critics today. They announced they will open 40,000 acres of privately-held land for hunting, and expand access for recreation on another 60,000 acres. As Susan Sharon reports, the action is part of a new concept plan under discussion for both a national park and an adjacent national recreation area.
When the “No Hunting” signs on lands owned by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. start coming down this week it will mark a major departure in the way philanthropist Roxanne Quimby manages her holdings.
The co-founder of the personal care products company, Burt’s Bees, has used her fortune to buy and conserve land around Baxter State Park over the past decade. But when she closed off her property to snowmobiling, ATVs and hunters, she was vilified as a “radical environmentalist,” especially as she looked to hand over 70,000 acres to the National Park Service for creation of a national park.
Enter Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair, the president of Elliotsville Plantion’s board. “What we started to realize is if a national park would be created in the North Woods of Maine, it really had to be uniquely Maine and really represent the cultural heritage of the region.”
Reached by cell phone in a remote part of the woods near Stacyville, St. Clair says he’s been meeting with people about the potential for a 75,000-acre national park and an adjacent 75,000-acre national recreation area east of Baxter for the past year. While national parks prohibit activities such as logging and motorized recreation and hunting, national recreation areas offer more access for traditional outdoors activities.
“I looked at what happened in Alaska, and when most of the national parks in Alaska were created in the ’70s they created ‘preserves’s next to them,” St. Clair says.
Alaska’s preserves allow for traditional use: hunting, fishing and some snowmobiling. “Another example of a preserve is a recreation area, and so I like the way a ‘recreation area’s sounded more,” St. Clair says.
Some longtime critics of the national park also like the way Lucas St. Clair is sounding. Don Kleiner is the executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. “To me, this is – they’re listening to the local people. And they heard the concerns.”
Kleiner says his 1,100-member association has long been concerned about the loss of access on Quimby’s land, and interference from the federal government if a park were to be created. And while the group’s board still has a written policy opposing the park, the board has agreed to meet privately with St. Clair later this month.
A one-time guide in Washington state, St. Clair is now pursuing his guide’s license in Maine. Unlike his mother, St. Clair grew up hunting and fishing in Maine. Kleiner says that makes it easier for St. Clair to relate to local residents. They speak the same language. “And when I meet with him we do seem to have some things in common,” Kleiner says.
With the latest announcement, not only are 40,000 acres open to hunting, but expanded recreational opportunities are also being made available. Examples include improvements to existing logging roads to form an18-mile loop north of Millinocket Lake for four-wheel drive vehicles; the re-opening of an ATV trail near Shin Pond and Patten and ongoing efforts to permanently protect significant snowmobile trails in the area.
Patten businessman Peter Ellis remains on the fence about the park, but he’s pleased about St. Clair’s direction. “He came. He’s spoken with us. He’s given us the feeling that our opinions and needs are being taken – I guess not taken – for granted,” Ellis says.
Ellis says St. Clair still needs to work on building trust. But he says if one thing is clear it’s that the economic survival of the region will need everyone’s involvement, not just one person’s.