PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Once opposed to hunting and snowmobiling on her property, Roxanne Quimby is now allowing both activities on large parcels of land as her foundation seeks to build support for her proposal for a national park and recreation area.
Starting this week, the foundation is removing "No Hunting" signs from about 40,000 acres east of the Penobscot River's East Branch and on another parcel of land between Greenville and Brownville Junction. It's part of an effort to increase recreational activities on a total of 100,000 acres of the privately held land.
While it's not a formal proposal, the foundation envisions creating a national park of 75,000 acres abutting the east side of the Baxter State Park and a similar-sized national recreation area across the Penobscot River's East Branch on which snowmobiling and hunting are allowed.
Her son, an avid hunter and fisherman who's now leading Quimby's effort, said Monday's announcement shows he's listening to the needs of local residents.
"This is just another step in building trust," Luke St. Clair said Monday by phone from northern Maine. "We've talked about this for a long time. We've talked about a national recreation area that would allow hunting. Now we're taking the next step and allowing hunting. We're opening it up."
Quimby wants to give tens of thousands of acres next to Baxter State Park to the federal government to create new national park that would be double the size of Maine's Acadia National Park.
But the foundation, Elliotsville Plantation Inc., has to win support from residents if there's ever any hope of winning the needed congressional backing.
The announcement marked a dramatic turnaround from just a few years ago when Quimby, the conservation-minded founder of Burt's Bees cosmetics, outraged some sportsmen by purchasing more than 100,000 acres of land and then banning hunters, loggers, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
"No one could have imagined when Roxanne Quimby started accumulating land that 40,000 acres of her land would be opening to hunting," said George Smith, former executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
Other types of recreation are also being opened on 60,000 acres of land west of the river. Those include upgrades of logging roads to create an 18-mile loop road for public access. And the foundation has reopened an ATV trail near Shin Pond and Patten and is working closely with snowmobile clubs to guarantee permanent access.
The project announced Monday has been dubbed Katahdin Woods & Waters. It includes a program to provide information to visitors from Lunksoos Camps while also making upgrades to recreational opportunities on the property, including clearing new hiking trails and installing signs.
St. Clair said more people in the Mount Katahdin region are coming around to the idea of national park with mixed uses that would be fully funded by Quimby, who made more than $300 million when she sold the business.
"There are more people willing to listen and give input than ever before. In the past, the opposition had a loud microphone but there weren't a lot of them," he said. "I think that's still the case."
Smith, who used to be a vocal critic, said he still isn't crazy about the idea of a national park but said he understands the economic benefits.
"I want to be sure sportsmen get as many opportunities as they can," Smith said. "If you're not at the table, you don't have that opportunity."
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