Roxanne Quimby | Controversy in Maine's North Woods
Not a particularly vigorous outdoorsman, Baxter became ill after one of his climbs up Katahdin. Through his fever that day, he vowed to himself that if he lived, he would ensure that one day, the mountain, which then belonged to the Great Northern Paper Company and to one other private owner, would forever belong to Maine.Starting in 1930 and ending in 1962, Baxter quietly purchased 28 separate pieces of land, a crazy quilt of mountains and streams, ponds, and waterfalls that he put together to form what is now known as Baxter State Park: 202,064 acres, more than 315 square miles of stark wilderness, a place Baxter willed to be “forever wild,” and which will remain so through the deeds of his trust. (Through additional purchases after Baxter’s death in 1969, the park now encompasses 204,733 square miles.)
These were not simple purchases, given over for the asking price. As he bought more and more parcels and closed most of them to hunting, angry citizens raised their voices. A park, Baxter discovered, was not something everyone embraced.
Most of Roxanne’s red rectangles are east of the park. She is stitching her own crazy quilt. These are plots of land she has bought. There are others she hopes to buy. Some are scattered and separate. By bargaining and swapping, she is trying to put together a whole. In concert with RESTORE, what she has in mind is a national park. “I feel like my reason for being put on this earth will have been fulfilled because this will live on after me. A park is a demonstration that there is something in America that I can love,” she says, her counterculture philosophy re-emerging. “It’s very democratic: A Mexican immigrant or a millionaire, for 10 bucks, they both get the same experience.”
She is sitting in the front room of one of her many homes, far from the cabin in Guilford. This particular house is in Portland, and it so happens that it once belonged to Governor Percival P. Baxter, whom she admires a great deal. “He is very inspiring to me,” she adds, “but there’s a difference between us. Governor Baxter inherited his money. He didn’t earn it. That makes for a whole different outlook. The way Percival Baxter went about acquiring his land must have been different, spending someone else’s money. I fight tooth and nail for every dollar. I’m a businessperson. I don’t want to be taken advantage of.”
That Roxanne Quimby and Percival Baxter live and lived at opposite ends of the American spectrum is true. The North Woods are Roxanne’s passion now, as the bees once were. “It was part of the culture of our family, to be out in the woods,” she recalls. “Both my kids hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The fact that the paper companies were downsizing came at the right time for me. There were all these opportunities. They used the woods and owned the mills, and that did, in some ways, preserve the wilderness because they never cut it up into pieces, so it’s still fairly intact. Chesuncook, Northeast Carry, Kokadjo — people carry those places in their minds, and even if they don’t get there, it’s important that it’s there, that they could be there if they wanted to.”
By the summer of 2007, Roxanne Quimby had spent $39 million to purchase 80,000 acres of wilderness. Nearly 65,000 acres of it lies between Baxter State Park and the East Branch of the Penobscot River. To her mind, a park is the only reasonable destiny for this land: “If we leave this to chance, we will not have the opportunity to make decisions about what happens next.”
In the process of making these purchases, Roxanne gobbled up hunting grounds, snowmobile trails, and some beloved primitive camps that families and hunters had passed down through generations. “I own it now,” she proclaimed. “Buying the land also means I am buying the right to call the shots.”
Roxanne, now the undisputed queen bee of the North Woods, returns to the map: “These two pieces of land here effectively stop all east–west traffic. This bridge, the Whetstone Bridge, here — it’s one of the very significant nails in the coffin because it’s the only way to get across the river for something like 30 miles. Okay, you can go over the bridge, but you can’t go across my land with a car. So you can have your bridge, but it ain’t doin’ you any good. I’m closing in, and I’m doing this to demonstrate that you cannot leave this to chance.”
She is speaking broadly to those who oppose a park, those who ironically also claim they believe in property rights: “Yes, it’s a private road, but it’s been in such permissive use for so many years, people forget that the state doesn’t own that road.”
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