MOUNT CHASE – The man in jeans, a plaid shirt and flip-flops who strolled onto the lawn Wednesday at Shin Pond Village looked like a drift-boat guide or a long-distance hiker. Not too long ago, he was.
But today Lucas St. Clair is president of the board of Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the company Roxanne Quimby formed to manage the 100,000 acres of land she owns in northern Maine.
Quimby wants to create a national park on the land, a vision that has stirred bitter opposition among many residents, who fear they will lose the opportunity to hunt, snowmobile, trap and pursue other traditional outdoor activities if the land comes under federal control.
Quimby herself has been vilified by her critics, especially after testy meetings with residents in the Millinocket area where she came across, according to some participants, as arrogant and insensitive.
St. Clair, 35, is Quimby’s son. He faces the daunting task of overcoming the hostility and distrust engendered by his mother and her ideas. St. Clair brings good credentials to the job: He’s a fisherman and a hunter who was raised in the Guilford area.
He earned widespread praise among sportsmen last week when he announced that the company would open 40,000 acres of its land near the East Branch of the Penobscot River and in the Greenville and Brownville Junction areas to hunting and ATV riding.
St. Clair said the land could someday become part of a national recreation area, a site that would be managed by the National Park Service but still open to hunting and other activities.
St. Clair says he recognizes the challenge he faces in northern Maine, but he believes that with hard work, honesty and determined outreach to local residents, the park will someday come to be.
“Absolutely, yeah. We are going to do everything we can to make it happen, and I believe it will, because it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s a great way to diversify the economy and help things get going again for a region that has struggled a bit.”
Quimby did not respond to requests for an interview relayed through St. Clair and the spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation, David Farmer. St. Clair said a decision has been made to keep Quimby out of the spotlight so she doesn’t become a lightning rod for more criticism.
“We feel it would be a setback,” he said. “She has removed herself from it. We don’t want the focus on what she has said publicly at a town hall or meeting. We’re trying to move past that.”
While many seem to regard Quimby as a pariah, St. Clair, a tall, bearded Seth Wescott-look-alike, is winning favor among the people of the Katahdin area and beginning to gain their trust.
He did it, locals say, by giving back to them, and keeping his word.
After moving his young family from Seattle to Portland last November, St. Clair has spent his time between Millinocket, Stacyville and Shin Pond meeting with people at their homes.
When he opened up the land to hunting and ATV riding last week, he added that he’s researching with his lawyers a deeded land agreement to permit snowmobiling.
“With Lucas we’re seeing a willingness to come here, listen and, if we’re upset, to work with us,” said Peter Ellis, owner of the Ellis Family Market in Patten. “I’m cautiously optimistic. He followed through on one thing he promised.”
St. Clair said he is moving fast to create a sensible plan with broad appeal, but he recognizes that much work needs to be done locally before pursuing congressional support for a new park. The Maine delegation has not supported Quimby’s plan — largely because of the fierce local opposition.
Convincing enough people in the Katahdin area to trust him will be a difficult task, considering the footsteps St. Clair has to follow.
“Roxanne scares me,” said Matt Libby Jr., whose family has run Libby Camps near Ashland for more than a century. “Anything she ever said, your first instinct was not to believe it. She might not have had a bad idea, but it was just how she came across: ‘I don’t care what you think. This is what we’re going to do and nobody is going to get in my way.’ She turned a lot of people off.”
St. Clair has a markedly different approach. He was born and raised in Maine and is a lifelong fly fisherman and a guide.
“I have the advantage in that I grew up here,” St. Clair said. “There is a more deeply rooted love for this area. It’s my home. People really want to tell me a lot of stuff and I want to do what I can to help them.”
The story of Quimby’s conservation land empire is the quintessential rags-to-riches tale: a hippie girl who turned a love of beekeeping in Maine into a profitable all-natural product line that made her the wealthy CEO of Burt’s Bees.
In 2004, Quimby sold most of her holdings in the multimillion-dollar company she co-founded at the same time she had decided to become a conservation philanthropist of enormous proportions. Two years earlier, she had started buying land in northern Maine, as much as 100,000 acres around Baxter State Park.
Quimby created Elliotsville Plantation Inc. with the intention of turning over the land to the National Park Service to make into a national park. Then she went to Millinocket to pitch her idea at public meetings, or as the story is told there, to announce what she would do.
At these meetings, the tension between the outdoor sporting public in northern Maine and Quimby was born.
St. Clair said the decision that he take over the national park effort came after many conversations on “how to navigate this” hostility, distrust and suspicion.
“I saw she didn’t have a lot of support, even from her staff,” he said. “She had a forester doing (public relations). It was not set up well. She was not in a position to make any headway. The debate was being fought on the front pages rather than one-on-one, peer-to-peer.”
His mother had also made enemies.
She bought the paper company forestland beside Baxter State Park, put up gates, posted “No Hunting” signs, and denied access in a region of the state where outdoor recreation on private working forest is a way of life that is deeply embedded in the culture. Then she started evicting people, primarily long-standing camp tenants who spent their summers on leased lands along the East Branch of the Penobscot River.
Two of the camp owners who were kicked out were the parents of Ellis, the store owner in Patten, who said a lot of animosity remains.
“She said hurtful things,” Ellis said of Quimby. “There is a lot of pride here among locals that this land is pristine. To say she wants to keep it pristine, well, we felt we were doing that job. Then she comes in and denies us access.”
Libby, the sporting camp owner, hosted St. Clair and Quimby four or five years ago and said she told him at the time that she had not even set foot on the land she had purchased.
“(St. Clair) has been all over the land that they own, whereas the first time she was here was her first time on it,” Libby said. “That was kind of disconcerting. She wants this national park but has never even gone on the land. She doesn’t even know it.”
So when St. Clair came on the scene a year ago sitting elbow-to-elbow with locals at picnic tables to ask what they wanted, people started to listen, despite the fact he is Quimby’s son.
Terry Hill, owner of Shin Pond Village campground in Mount Chase, said St. Clair came to her and her husband, Craig, almost a year ago and asked what they wanted to see happen on the plantation company’s land. He returned to ask them two more times.
St. Clair later asked to hold an informational meeting in Shin Pond, and the Hills hosted it.
It may have been the most important meeting St. Clair will hold in these parts.
“Two or three people said to me, ‘I don’t know why I would go to something like that,’” Hill said. “I said I was just inviting them. And after, they told me they were surprised. He gave them some things to think about.”
Libby said those same business owners who walked away surprised were “the same people who sent Roxanne (Quimby) death threats.”
The tide may have begun to turn.
“I’m excited,” Hill said. “We’re excited to get some of our needs met. It isn’t everything, and that’s OK. He was very clear at the start that the west side of the (Penobscot) river would stay as it was. But at this point, we need to move in a positive direction. There’s been too much negative.”
The local economy is run on hunting and snowmobiling, so the 40,000 acres that was opened for hunting last week helps significantly, Hill said.
Ellis, the Patten store owner, said he trusts St. Clair because he’s earned it.
“Now I can believe in the dialogue and have an open mind. And we’ll see where it goes,” Ellis said.
Libby said other than the shared dream of a national park, St. Clair and Quimby are polar opposites.
The fifth-generation owner of Libby Camps, Libby and his family want to see Maine’s sporting camp heritage endure as much as anyone. He said he trusts St. Clair.
“I don’t think you’re going to talk him out of wanting a national park. That’s not a bad thing to keep your ideals. But he knows without the people behind him, he’ll get no national park,” Libby said. “He is trying to figure out a way to get the people most of what they want.”
Meanwhile, others remain doubtful.
Jim Busque, a Millinocket town councilor and an officer in the Fur, Fin, and Feather Club, said St. Clair’s approach is just a deceptive show — a big sound bite.
“What is transpiring here is his mother wasn’t successful, but she’s saying, ‘As long as a national park is still on the table, do it your way,’” Busque said. “The problem is there is still a park on the table. I simply do not trust these people no matter what.”
Christina Shipps, who owns Mountain Glory Farm in Patten, says she is “cautiously optimistic,” but she has lingering concerns.
After a local group of interested business owners helped the Maine Department of Transportation promote the new “Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway,” the plantation company took the name last week for a new website touting the land that was recently opened.
Shipps said using the name of a scenic byway is common. But she remains distrustful.
“She alienated people and threw people off their land,” Shipps said of Quimby. “He is very nice, he’s sweet, he is an outdoorsman. And now he also is the president of their board.”
St. Clair grew up in Guilford in both his mother’s house and his father’s, as he tells it, getting passed back and forth between two households and two middle schools. Quimby and his father, George St. Clair, divorced when their son was 4.
“That’s why I went to Gould (Academy), to be in one school,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair said he grew up “bird and deer hunting with my father,” has fished since he was 3 years old and remains an avid bird hunter.
In 2005, he moved to Seattle, where he guided for Emerald Water Anglers for three years. At that time, he said he had many discussions with Quimby about the national park plan.
Finally, two years ago, St. Clair became president of the Elliotsville Planation Inc. board, which is made up of himself, Quimby, and his twin sister, Hannah.
He started traveling back and forth across the country, but quickly realized he could accomplish more if he returned to Maine. So last November he moved with his wife and 2-year-old daughter to Portland.
St. Clair said he came to be president of the company because he and his mother came to an understanding that the enterprise needed a new direction. As a result, Quimby has stepped back, and the fishing guide has become the guide for her dream.
“I knew that to put this in our favor, people had to have a safe place to speak their mind,” St. Clair said. “I had to let them know this is a safe place.”
Before St. Clair can begin the work of gathering political support in Washington, he needs the support of locals in Mount Chase, Shin Pond, Patten and Millinocket. And in less than a year, he’s made headway. But how much work remains is uncertain.
“I come home from work and my wife asks me, ‘What did you do today?’ And I say, ‘I’m not sure, but I met with a lot of people.’ There is no time line for this,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair said he and his mother share a common dream and have had long conversations about Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, legendary figures with contrasting approaches to conservation. While Muir extolled untrammeled wilderness, Roosevelt was an ardent hunter.
“It’s presumptuous to compare us to Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, but in those conversations we found a lot of common ground,” St. Clair said. “Her input gives me side rails, and my input gives her side rails.”
Eventually, St. Clair believes they will establish a national park, and in the process help the economy around Mount Katahdin and along the East Branch of the Penobscot.
If they succeed, it would likely become Quimby’s legacy, despite the resistance she fostered, which St. Clair is working so hard to overcome.
“I absolutely think he has had to work 10 times as hard (because of her),” Libby said. “It wouldn’t have been so hard for him if she had just kept her mouth shut.”
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: