GOULDSBORO — It was 15 years ago that Roxanne Quimby bought a first parcel of land that she hoped – with additions – 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 83,563 acres. Earlier this year, 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. “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.”
Katahdin Woods and Waters is located in an area economically depressed by paper mill closures. Yet there is opposition locally from those who fret about the encroachment of the federal government.
Quimby said she spent about $60 million on the 83,563 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 likely it is 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. 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.
Quimby said she never had a direct discussion with 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.”