Maine sportsmen were outraged when Roxanne Quimby, the conservation-minded founder of Burt’s Bees cosmetics, bought up tens of thousands of acres of Maine’s fabled North Woods — and had the audacity to forbid hunters, loggers, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles on the expanses.
Quimby confronted the hornet’s nest she’d stirred up head-on — calling one of her sharpest critics, George Smith, then-executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Smith couldn’t believe his ears. The back-to-the-earth advocate who made millions with her eco-friendly line of personal care products was calling him at home, on a Saturday morning?
“I thought someone was playing a joke on me when she called,” Smith recalls. “She said, ‘Hi, this is Roxanne Quimby. I said, ‘Oh yeah, sure.’”
That call in 2006 opened a face-to-face dialogue with some of her biggest critics over the land she’s bought — more than 120,000 acres of woodlands.
Quimby wants to give more than 70,000 wild acres next to Maine’s cherished Baxter State Park to the federal government, hoping to create a Maine Woods National Park. She envisions a visitor center dedicated to Henry David Thoreau, the naturalist who made three trips to Maine in the 1800s.
The park would be nearly twice the size of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
In a giveback to sportsmen, her vision is to set aside another 30,000 acres of woodlands north of Dover-Foxcroft to be managed like a state park, with hunting and snowmobiling allowed.
“There’s enough land that we can all get what we want,” said Quimby.
The multi-millionaire disarmed her critics, who thought they’d have to deal with a patchouli-scented eccentric. What they found was a woman who thinks big, but is a pragmatic problem-solver; someone who has strong ideals, but is willing to compromise; a self-made businesswoman who’s willing to put up her own millions to achieve her conservation goals.
Smith, for one, came to respect and admire her. “I was one of her harshest critics, so it’s really rather remarkable,” he said. “In the end, it’s her land and she’ll do whatever suits her. But at least she’s listening.”
If she can win support, Quimby wants to time her donation in five years to the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service.
The Park Service is intrigued by Quimby’s idea, especially since it believes the Northeast is underserved. The last time a large national park was created was in Alaska in the 1980s during the Carter administration.
“The National Park Service would like to see additional opportunities for preserving these beautiful places and creating recreational opportunities in the Northeast,” said spokesman David Barna. “The proposal would be exciting for the National Park Service to evaluate.”
The proposed national park land occupies a wild sprawl east of Baxter State Park. Much of it is covered with saplings as it recovers from logging operations that ended five years ago. Mountain ridges offer breathtaking views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail.