ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Philanthropist Roxanne Quimby’s land conservation foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., is donating 13 parcels of land totaling 100 acres on Mount Desert Island to Acadia National Park just in time to help the park celebrate its centennial.
Five of the parcels are in Bar Harbor, with three each in Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, and two in Tremont. Until now, they have been among the privately owned parcels earmarked for acquisition inside the permanent boundary of the park that Congress established in 1986. The total assessed value of the land is just under $2 million.
“Acadia is an evolving park, and there are inholdings within the park boundary that create a management challenge and additional work for the park service,” said Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son and president of the board of Elliotsville Plantation, in a telephone interview with the Islander on Tuesday.
“When those parcels went on the market, we had the opportunity to work with local conservation organizations including Friends of Acadia and Maine Coast Heritage Trust to acquire them and give them to the park service. We’ve been working on making these acquisitions over the past several years and feel like it’s a great way to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Acadia and the National Park Service.”
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in a statement Tuesday that the park is grateful for the donation of land “to the American people.”
“We also appreciate the great support and coordination of our land conservation partners, Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Friends of Acadia, which helped to make the donation possible.
Schneider said the Elliotsville Plantation gift “continues the tradition of philanthropy that resulted in the creation of the national park from private land 100 years ago.”
Altogether, the 13 parcels that Elliotsville Plantation is giving to Acadia have been assessed by the four MDI towns at $1.85 million. In some cases, that figure does not reflect the true value of the gift.
For example, in the Mount Desert village of Pretty Marsh, Elliotsville Plantation paid $1.7 million for 23.3 acres in 2009. But that parcel is assessed for tax purposes at only $3,300 because it is in the state’s tree-growth property tax program, according to Kyle Avila, the town’s tax assessor.
An adjacent 9.2-acre parcel was purchased by Elliotsville Plantation and James W. Sewall Co. in 2011 for $555,000. But again, because of the tree-growth exemption, the assessed value is $1,200.
On the other hand, a .86-acre lot in Seal Harbor that Elliotsville Plantation bought for $45,000 in 2006 is assessed at $178,700.
Avila said he didn’t know why there was such a big discrepancy.
“The valuation is in line with vacant land pricing,” he said. “I’ve never heard from [the owner], so it’s never been scrutinized as far as what they paid versus what they could sell it for now.”
He noted that the lot in question is surrounded by Acadia National Park property, so access might have been an issue.
The 1986 Acadia “Master Plan” legislation included a finite list of parcels to be added to or deleted from the park to establish a permanent boundary. The park was not prohibited from accepting conservation easements.
A total of $9.1 million was included in the master plan for land acquisition, but it was quickly used up buying a handful of large parcels on Schooner Head and Bar Island when property owners there threatened to develop the lots. Additional funds have not been appropriated to complete the remaining acquisitions.
Quimby, who made her fortune as cofounder of Burt’s Bees, established Elliotsville Plantation in 2002 as a private foundation for “the acquisition and conservation of land and the preservation of open space for the benefit of the public …,” according to the foundation’s website.
It now manages more than 100,000 acres in northern and coastal Maine.
Quimby and St. Clair are leading the controversial effort to have nearly 88,000 acres of land that they own adjacent to Baxter State Park designated as the Maine Woods National Monument, and eventually as a national park.
They want to give the land, along with a $40 million endowment, to the National Park Service.
Quimby previously has made gifts of lands within the boundary of Acadia, and that process is continuing.