BREWER – Roxanne Quimby may be the queen Bee, but she has no plans to reign over the township she bought last month, the national park advocate told a sold-out crowd at the industrial forestry forum Thursday night.
“I think we live in a democracy, I don’t think I’m the queen of T5 R8,” Quimby said.
Two weeks ago, Quimby revealed that she had closed a deal to purchase an entire township from J. D. Irving Ltd. on the eastern border of Baxter State Park with the intention of eventually donating the land to a Maine Woods National Park.
Quimby, who made her fortune as co-founder of Burt’s Bees, a natural cosmetics and candle company, has already purchased more than 40,000 acres of forestland – to the tune of $20 million – saying that she was giving her profits back to Maine.
But people who make their livings near or within her acquisitions in Piscataquis – and now northern Penobscot – counties have bitterly opposed any park. In recent weeks, people who run the sporting camps and hunting guide services in and around T5 R8 have worried that Quimby would shut down snowmobile access to a critical portion of the ITS, or cease to allow hunting on her property.
Thursday, a small group from the Maine Woods Coalition, led by private property rights advocate Mary Adams, protested outside Jeff’s Catering, complete with someone dressed as a wolf in Red Riding Hood’s clothing. Local police patrolled the parking lot to maintain order, however, and the evening remained civil.
The event was pitched as Quimby’s vision for the North Woods. But the crowd was more interested in hard facts, so the philanthropist faced down their questions and their criticism.
First on the minds of locals was the question of access. Quimby told them that the camp leases on her new land will not be continued indefinitely.
“I don’t think they should plan on leaving those lots to their children in their wills,” she said, offering to negotiate with lessees, and compensate them fairly for their losses.
Neighboring logging companies, too, feared the loss of access to tote roads in T5 R8. Again, Quimby offered a business deal.
“It makes no environmental sense to send a logging truck 60 miles around the mulberry bush when they could cut eight miles across my land to get where they want to go,” Quimby said, adding that the access might come at a price.
“Why should I give away something that I paid for, for free? It’s just business,” she said, offering to trade a right-of-way for land.
Those who make their living from hunters and snowmobilers who have traditionally used Quimby’s land got less of an answer. Quimby has no fondness for ATVs, which she said have caused environmental damage on some of her other lands. Nor does the vegetarian, who said Thursday night that she kills only houseflies and mosquitoes, advocate the bear baiting that many guides practice in her township.
But Quimby’s record is not one of exclusion.
“I own 40,000 acres of land and I haven’t posted it [against] anything,” Quimby said, adding that she felt that she had no power to keep anyone off her property. “These arguments are a lot older than I am. I don’t expect to solve them by waving a magic wand.”
Many of the occasionally rowdy crowd’s question’s challenged Quimby’s central belief – that northern Maine, where she founded her company, raised her children, and lived for 20 years, needs to diversify its economy to survive.
“We’re bleeding people,” she said. ” Our young people leave … they come back at Christmas.”
One questioner challenged Quimby’s dedication to the community, raising the fact that she moved her company from Maine to North Carolina, laying off dozens of people.
“These were my neighbors, they were my friends, I knew their children,” Quimby replied. “This was a heartbreaking decision. I didn’t want to do it. I did it because the business wouldn’t have survived in Piscataquis County.”
A national park, which Quimby believes could draw a million visitors annually, might be a solution, she said, describing her first national park experience
“It brought me in connection with something bigger than myself, it was a humbling experience,” she said. “We need to feel that humility and that graciousness at being on this planet. … I think that’s what makes a human being aspire to goodness and to peace.”
Quimby answered her critics in the forestry community by invoking their own favored argument – a free market.
“I’m not forcing anybody to sell me anything for less than their asking price,” she said.
But despite the evening’s tension and an occasional heckler in the crowd, Quimby was unruffled, offering to negotiate, to tour her lands with a forester and to create a staff that will work cooperatively with conservation groups in Maine.
“People agree and people don’t agree – I’m sort of psyched that this is important enough to have an opinion,” she said. “I think the biggest problem that we have as a country is apathy.”