Roxanne Quimby | Controversy in Maine's North Woods
“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.”
In November of last year, Burt’s Bees was sold for nearly a billion dollars to Clorox, which stated that it was eager to “grab market share in so-called green products.”
“It feels like closure,” Roxanne said shortly after the sale. The little company that grew is now completely out of her hands. But 20 percent of the sale price went to Roxanne. “That has put a lot more green energy into what I’m planning to do,” she added.
In December, after a year of closed-door negotiations, Roxanne struck a new kind of deal with state officials and local civic leaders. From the Gardner timber company, she purchased 8,900 acres east of Baxter State Park, which she will return to wilderness, and in turn granted the state a two-year option to buy 5,000 acres of her Millinocket-area property plus a working forest easement on another 6,600 acres, guaranteed to be open to motorized recreation and logging. She also agreed to keep open two important snowmobile trails that cross portions of her land, perhaps heralding a thaw in her relations with area sportsmen and residents.
Today, she is working on acquiring still more contiguous parcels on the east side of Baxter State Park. “This feels good,” she says. “Yes it does.”
Click here for more information about Roxanne Quimby’s foundation to improve the quality of the north woods in Maine, keepmebeautiful.org.