Thanks, But No Thanks: Behind Maine's Odd Battle to Prevent a National Park

If you’ve ever visited Maine before, you already know that it is gorgeous. It’s has some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere in the country. And now, it’s also the setting of a new battle to preserve more of America’s ever-receding natural beauty.

Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, an “earth-friendly” line of personal care products, wants to donate $100 million and 70,000 acres of wilderness to create a new national park in Maine. As reported:

Quimby went public with her bold plan to donate a swath of wilderness next to Baxter State Park, home to Mount Katahdin and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, in 2011. The current proposal calls for donating land valued at $60 million and providing $40 million more — $20 million from her foundation, $20 million from private donors — to fund park operations.

Sounds awesome, right?

Well, it does sound awesome. But the grumpy locals of Medway and East Millinocket are vehemently opposing Quimby’s plan. In a nonbinding resolution, residents of the respective towns opposed the proposal by a two-to-one margin, citing fears that it opens the door for the federal government to intrude into their lives and impose regulations—the kinds of regulations that they believe will limit their future options (i.e. attracting environmentally unfriendly industries).

I personally find that reasoning ridiculous, but you see where these economic fears are coming from. Both Medway and East Millinocket took a devastating blow when two paper mills shuttered, decimating what had been the region’s primary industry for over a century, and leaving the towns with double-digit unemployment rates. The AP reports:

Young people are moving away. Houses have gone on the market for as little as $10,000. And unemployment, which soared to nearly 20 percent a few years ago, remains in the low double digits — twice the state average.

What the locals fear is that protecting the area's wilderness will make it harder for the region to get back on its feet. 

But what they miss is that the opposite is likely the case. Quimby’s plan would bring in a sizeable, and much-needed investment to the long-struggling area and hundreds of jobs, too. And lest we forget, the plan includes the preservation of 70,000 acres of pristine wilderness, and another smaller parcel of land that will be conserved for public recreation. 

Roxanne Quimby is no stranger to pushback against her conservation efforts.

From as far back as 2001, Quimby has riled up a certain subset of Maine residents, buying up land left and right, stoking fears that an evil national park was on its way. In 2001, the Bangor Daily News wrote up a profile of Quimby’s conservation work, in which she even outlines her dream of growing Burt’s Bee’s to a scale acommodating the purchase and care of land for an eventual national park: 

Quimby said a national park presents the perfect way to protect one of the last great wild areas on the East Coast. Much of the land is already for sale, so it makes sense to buy and secure its future as a protected place, she said.

Not everyone shares Quimby’s vision. Last fall, governing bodies in the two largest communities near the proposed park, Greenville and Millinocket, passed resolutions opposing a North Woods national park, as did the Piscataquis County commissioners. The Bangor City Council also announced its opposition to the park.

But if the past is any indication of the future—which in this case, it clearly is—Quimby is not about to back down. Quimby has been quietly pouring millions of dollars into land preservation and restoration efforts, purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of land throughout Maine, both pristine and ravaged by a diminished logging industry. And while local critics have been making the most noise, she does enjoy wide support for her plan from residents in other parts of the state.

Related - Quimby Family Foundation: Grants for Conservation