“I was convinced it was a really great idea,” says Quimby of park


Roxanne Quimby

GOULDSBORO — It was 15 years ago that Roxanne Quimby bought a first parcel of land that she hoped — with added acquisitions — would grow into a new national park.

She methodically added onto her holdings until that initial 8,513-acre purchase grew over the years to 87,563 acres. A little over a week ago, Quimby donated all that land to the National Park Service. Two days later, on Aug. 24, President Barack Obama designated the property the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

“You create the asset, which then creates the opportunities,” Quimby said in a recent interview with The American. “I was convinced it was a really great idea.”

The White House said that every dollar invested in national parks generates $10 for the economy, most of which stays in local communities.

Quimby, founder of the Burt’s Bees natural cosmetics empire, is now turning her focus to other ventures — her Ravens Nest restaurant in Winter Harbor, renovation of a building she purchased on Main Street in Winter Harbor and starting a new company.

Quimby said the product line for the new venture will be pasta and related products. It will be based locally and the goal is to have it be employee-owned.

“I want to look into a completely healthy pasta line,” she said. “What a great thing that would be, especially since this time I’m not striving for my own survival.”

National monument

Katahdin Woods and Waters is located in an area depressed by paper mill closures, yet there was opposition locally from those who fret about the encroachment of the federal government.

Quimby said she spent about $60 million on the 87,563 acres and added $20 million as a maintenance fund for the National Park Service, for which $20 million will be sought in matching contributions. She also expended up to $8 million for property taxes, building the Scenic Byway road and other improvements.

“For every insult there have been hundreds of thank yous,” Quimby said. “It turns out the negatives had megaphones. It appears they were fewer people with louder voices.”

“It’s a great place for people who like to paddle rivers and fish,” she said. “If offers family-friendly hikes for those for whom hiking Mount Katahdin would be too strenuous.”

“It will get you high enough — about 2,000 feet — to see an ocean of green,” Quimby said.

When the property might become a national park is unknown. Such a designation would require congressional approval and the majority of Maine’s delegation has been, at best, lukewarm about the new public space.

Quimby said a comparable property — the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in western Colorado — was established as a national monument in 1933 and did not become a national park until 1999.

Quimby said she has always thought in terms of a national park because of the National Park Service’s international brand.

The better the name is known, the more it is likely to attract visitors who will spend dollars locally.

“Pick a state park near a national park and very few people have ever heard of the state park,” Quimby said. “A national park has incredible cachet. People feel safe there and feel comfortable taking their families there.”

She did make a few concessions to make the conversion to public space more palatable. One is to allow hunting and snowmobiling on certain parcels.

“That was to damp down the controversy over what are known as traditional recreational activities,” Quimby said. “I went along with it. It was a compromise.”

Quimby said the National Park Service will be working on a management plan for Katahdin Woods and Waters.

She and her son, Lucas St. Clair, who became the public face for the project four years ago, had other stipulations in the deeds they conveyed to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

These stipulations were that Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the official owner of the land before it was conveyed, be allowed to make improvements immediately to make the national monument more user-friendly.

These include construction of a Visitors Center and a boathouse and boat launch on Shin Pond.

Quimby said the idea is to bridge the time until Katahdin Woods is part of the National Park Service budget.

The national monument is already open to the public. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell toured the property last weekend. And a park superintendent is in place — Tim Hudson of Bangor, a longtime park service employee.

Quimby said Obama’s executive order was the final step in the 15-year endeavor, and the one over which she and her advisors had no control.

“The real estate legal team said it’s up to the President. He’s got the world on his hands. Anything could interfere with the proclamation,” she said.

The designation first needed approval from Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

Quimby said she never had a direct discussion with President Obama about Katahdin Woods.

“I’ve never talked to him,” she said. “I did get a hug once in Portland, Maine, years ago. He was at the Portland Museum of Art for a fundraiser.”

What’s next

Quimby has much to keep her busy in the days ahead.

She is on the board of the National Park Service Foundation and is head of the Quimby Family Foundation.

The foundation supports the arts and community and environmental well-being.

Arts organizations such as Schoodic Arts for All on the Schoodic Peninsula “can make a town,” she said.

Quimby said she is particularly interested in projects that tap into heritage tourism, the fastest growing branch of tourism that involves traveling to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.

In recent months the Quimby Family Foundation made a donation to the Rockland Historical Society to help purchase and preserve the Rockland birthplace of famed poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“There are other projects like that all over Maine,” Quimby said.

Quimby said that looking more locally, her focus will be on making the Ravens Nest restaurant at the corner of Main and Newman streets in Winter Harbor “a success.”

She and her staff are discussing ideas for next season, among them offering a prix fixe, three-course senior citizens dinner one night a week from 4-6:30.

Quimby said she wants to tweak the menu — add more greens and more pasta, such as lobster ravioli.

She said she will be open Memorial Day to Columbus Day next year, although the restaurant closed earlier this year due to a change in management.

Quimby plans to renovate a building she purchased at the corner of Main Street and Harbor Road.

The building, which formerly contained a Laundromat and apartments, will have a retail shop on the first level with seasonal rentals on the second and third floors.

Quimby said she will paint the new property she built at the corner of Main and Newman streets a buttery yellow with white trim, but has not yet decided what she will do inside.

“I’m really into business,” she said. “I like to help nonprofits find and capitalize on opportunities that bring in revenue and revitalize the area.”

Speaking of that, Quimby said she wants to start a locally based company that would be regional — not national — in reach and would eventually be owned by employees.

One of her farmhouses on West Bay Road was recently certified with a commercial kitchen, which is where the new enterprise will begin.

Quimby said she envisions a product line of dried pasta, which she now makes, fresh frozen pasta, sauces and other related products.

She said she likes the ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) model at King Arthur Flour in Norwich, Vt., where she has frequently taken baking classes.

“You see someone pouring coffee all day, and it doesn’t seem that interesting, but they’re invested so they do it well,” Quimby said.

She said that the key element in business is patience and persistence.

“You can’t rush things,” Quimby said. “I don’t like to be rushed. I really feel like patience is a tool. You have to just wait it out.”

“You keep trying things until you come up with a formula that works,” she said. “You have to be comfortable with the unknown in order to take the risk to find the niche no one has found yet. That’s where the opportunities are.”

When one approach fails, she said, she looks at it as an experiment.

“That gets me closer to the things that do work,” Quimby said.

She likes a quote she read one day in the Piscataquis Observer about a family that had arrived in Monson, Maine, having just completed hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The children were asked how they completed such a monumental undertaking.

“Their 5-year-old son said: ‘Every morning we got up and we just started walking.’”

Quimby has staff meetings every week at Ravens Nest and said she is open about how the restaurant is doing financially.

“It all comes down to numbers at the end of the day,” Quimby said.

She said she had not yet felt the full effects of the National Monument designation, that it would take time to fully digest.

“This is the kind of thing that requires some distance to process,” she said. “This has been a long process.”

What she does look forward to is a scene similar to one she witnessed recently when she was at the Visitors Center at the Schoodic Woods Campground and saw a van of children and their parents emerge, all excited to be there.

“This is something donors should see,” she thought to herself. “I hope I’ll get to see a scene like that” at Katahdin Woods. “Then I can say, ‘Finally, it’s working.’”

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is located in north central Maine about a two-hour drive east of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor and a one-hour drive north of Bangor.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is open year-round, 24 hours a day. There is no entry fee.

Visitors may enter the park through its main entry off Route 11, which is known as Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway. To the north, follow Route 159 to Grand Lake Road to access the northern section of the park. To the south, access from Route 11 to Swift Brook Road to enter the southern portion of the park and rive the scenic loop road.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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