On Tuesday, 13 deeds gave the 87,563 acres from Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. to what was listed simply as “The United States of America”
BANGOR — The company owned by the family of Roxanne Quimby transferred more than 87,000 acres of land to the federal government on Tuesday, strongly indicating that a North Woods national monument will soon be designated by President Barack Obama.
Susan F. Bulay of the Penobscot County Register of Deeds confirmed the 13 deeds passing the 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.
Attempts to contact Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, Elliotsville Plantation, the National Park Service and the White House were not immediately successful Tuesday.
Obama’s 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 could one day 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.
The new 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 58 national parks, 36 began as monuments, including Maine’s Acadia National Park.
If the deeds transfer does signal the monument designation, the president’s announcement would be the culmination of a campaign that began at least as far back as April 2015, when a lobbyist employed by Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, began working with National Park Service and White House officials.
But Quimby’s quest to federally protect Maine’s northern woods took root more than a decade earlier, 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 approximately 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. Angus 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 congresspeople traditionally author bills for their own areas.
Only Congress can create national parks, but presidents can issue executive orders to create monuments.
King, however, had already 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.
The shadow of Quimby, a self-made millionaire, has hung over both campaigns. Her tendency to evict leaseholders, prevent hunting and snowmobiling on her lands since she started buying them quickly drew the disapproval of Mainers long used to “traditional-rights access” — the somewhat oxymoronic term for residents’ use of privately owned land for their own recreation.
Quimby typically denies forestry, hunting, snowmobiling, ATV riding and similar activities on her lands but does allow hiking and other passive recreation activities.
But others said Quimby was merely 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 North Maine 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. Probably the single greatest reason the park campaign bill has yet to be written, that distrust remains strong.