Roxanne Quimby | Controversy in Maine's North Woods
“She made so much money in Maine, she had to leave the state to make more money,” he adds, somewhat sour that she took her business south. But he corrects himself: “She was different. Hard-nosed, successful. She’s made it and she deserves it, just like Bill Gates. I don’t agree with her, but I do respect her.”
He stops. He’s a tall man, bearded and probably the same age as Roxanne. For some years, they shared this town. “Now she’s one of those kingdom holders,” he says. “She’s kicked out all the leaseholders. That doesn’t go over very well.”
Roxanne closed her properties to snowmobiles and hunting and gave notice to the camp owners. The land was hers now. She made statements in the press that fueled the fire, but then she realized that was not the right path: “I needed to meet with them and hear what their needs were. I feel like we’re both at the table as equals. I’ve never felt any sense of entitlement, and I still don’t feel that way, that I’m entitled to anything more or less than anyone else, so I think that puts me in a unique position to work with these folks. And they really like me; I don’t feel any antagonism from them. They keep shaking their heads and thinking, ‘You’re just like a regular person, aren’t you?’ ”
Terry Hill and her husband, Craig, have run the wilderness resort known as Shin Pond Village Campground in Patten for some 30 years now, and they were among those who felt steaming outrage — not only at the fact of Roxanne’s acquisitions but also at her, this woman who came into the woods like a strike force, money on her belt like repeating ammunition.
“When this started, we were ready to fight,” says Terry. Their resort includes campgrounds, cottages, and miles of snowmobiling trails that cut right through Roxanne’s land. Meetings were called; Roxanne came to listen. A year of meetings has made a huge difference. “In the past year, I’ve done a 180-degree turn in this process,” Terry says. “She’s listening. She’s extended our rights for the snowmobile trails for another year. She’s working hard to be a better neighbor. We don’t know what the future of the Maine Woods will be — none of us do. But we do know that we all love the woods, we love our land, and maybe, in the long run, we all want the same thing.”
The old North Woods open up like a trunk full of memories, smelling of camphor and pine needles, woodsmoke and melting snow. When a river driver died, riding a log or busting up a jam, people would find his spiked boots downstream and hang them on a tree near the water. They would hang there for years as a memorial until they disintegrated. We have nothing to hang on the tree now, no vestige of that life gone by.
The Lumbermen’s Museum in Patten is as close as we will likely get. Bud Blumenstock has been a docent there for several years, having retired from managing woodlots from Fort Kent to Kittery. He sees these changes in the woods more optimistically than most, retaining the hope of a forest that will always support the people of that area. “Logging and lumbering have always been a big part of our economy,” he explains. “It’s changed in that Maine is now a village woodlot in the global economy. We’re up against Brazil and China. To be competitive, we have to be efficient. It’s a very complex situation.”
And the players have to bring themselves into that competitive mix. “A logger is no longer a man with an axe on his shoulder,” says Blumenstock. “It’s not unusual for a logger to have a million dollars invested in his work. When people like Roxanne Quimby come along, they have a lot of money and they want to buy land. I once told Roxanne that I’m a tree hugger and a logger, and she said, ‘How do you do that?’ ‘Well,’ I told her, ‘I hug the tree and then I cut it down.’ Parks are nice, but they don’t produce any lumber.”
The great trees of these woods are long gone, and much of the new growth, thinner and less substantial, is not good enough for lumber. These trees are chewed up for wood chips or used in pulp mills to make paper. Much of the land Roxanne and Plum Creek have bought has been damaged by extensive logging. Plum Creek is proposing trophy homes and resorts. Roxanne wants her land to return to wilderness.
Like many people around here, Blumenstock keeps his opinion of Roxanne to himself: “I don’t want to say anything negative about Roxanne Quimby. She has her plan. It’s her choice and her prerogative, but logging is an important industry to the state of Maine. Trees grow. That’s my one-liner. As long as we harvest them wisely, we’ll always have a strong working forest in the state of Maine.”
“Oh, Roxanne Quimby? she’s my hero!” Wallace Drew is the ranger on duty at the check-in station at Baxter State Park’s Matagamon gate. “We compare her to Governor Baxter. When Baxter was buying up the land for this park, people were mad about that, too. He has it in the deeds: Forever wild. That means no paved roads, primitive campsites. Most of us understand that these lands need to be preserved.”
From the station, you return to your car and leave this earthly world. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling. The park road — narrow, with grass growing between the dirt tracks — wanders, twists, and turns, mile after mile, edged tightly by trees and canopied with their branches. At openings, there are waterfalls, marshes, or streams, and eventually, majestic Katahdin.
Baxter’s struggle to climb to the Katahdin summit remained one of his few actual experiences on the big mountain, which rises a mile high. When he visited his park later, he came in his chauffeur-driven Cadillac — a strange sight, the old man viewing his most important legacy from the backseat of a black limousine. He thought about that park every day, his chauffeur reported.
That is true for Roxanne as well. But her struggle is in sharp contrast.
Once, years ago, she came home from selling candles and lip balm at a craft show. It was 3 in the morning and 20 below zero. She was tired and discouraged. She had not sold enough to even pay for her gas home. When she got home, the wind had blown the window of her cabin open, and there was snow all over. “Sometimes you feel like giving up. I did that night,” she recalls. “But then you pick yourself up again. I believe that success is getting up one more time than you fall. It’s not one brilliant idea, but a bunch of small decisions that accumulate. Never underestimate the amount of work involved, the amount of fear involved.”