Maine North Woods

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 2005

In the mid-1970s, Roxanne Quimby relocated to rural Maine to live close to the earth, without electricity or running water. A decade later, she partnered with beekeeper Burt Shavitz and began making beeswax candles, polishes, and eventually the lip balm that turned Burt’s Bees into a multimillion-dollar personal-care company. In 2000, Quimby started buying up land in Maine’s north woods, near Mount Katahdin, with some of her profits. She accelerated the process after she sold Burt’s Bees for hundreds of millions of dollars (she had previously taken control from Burt). She eventually owned 120,000 acres of woodland wilderness.

Quimby wanted to turn this land into a national park, a desire which proved controversial. An ardent environmentalist, she closed access to land she purchased, banned hunting and fishing, tore up roads and bridges, and stopped snowmobiling. This sparked a loud outcry from locals, who were allowed easy access to the land for personal enjoyment by the paper companies that were the previous proprietors. In response to the backlash, Quimby and her son, Lucas St. Clair, reopened portions of their holdings to certain recreational uses.

In addition to the curtailed recreational use of this vast swath of land, many residents of the Maine woods fear losing forestry jobs and development opportunities if land becomes locked up in a national park. Local citizens voted against a park, and the state legislature passed a resolution opposing any federal designation. But Quimby kept lobbying in Washington, and in 2016, with a stroke of a pen, President Obama turned 87,654 acres donated by Quimby into a National Monument, and posted National Park Service rangers on the premises.

The land was valued at about $60 million. To encourage the transfer, Quimby also donated $20 million as a maintenance endowment, and promised $20 million more in the future to operate the park.

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