By Deirdre Fleming
The company that manages Roxanne Quimby's land next to Baxter State Park is opening 40,000 acres to hunting this week, marking a stark change in a policy that upset hunters and guides in the past decade.
Sportsmen expressed gratitude for the new access to the land owned by Elliotsville Plantation Inc. But strong opposition to a national park, which is Quimby's dream, remains in northern Maine.
Elliotsville Plantation's board intends to "make good on our commitments to expand public access and ensure that these recreational activities are allowed from now on," Lucas St. Clair, Quimby's son and the president of the board, said in a news release.
He went further in an interview, saying the new access policy is a "dress rehearsal" for the kind of "National Park Service unit" that Elliotsville Plantation is putting together in northern Maine, where hunting and motorized recreation would be allowed.
"The goal is to draft legislation to make sure everything that is put into place stays in place, and that it is absolutely clear what's allowed. The idea is to allow hunting and snowmobiling. And I know it can happen because I've seen (national parks) where it does," St. Clair said.
However, guides and sportsmen expressed deep reservations about the future.
The tradition in northern Maine, where large companies own vast tracts of timberland, is to leave land open for recreation and allow access for fishermen, hunters, boaters and hikers.
When Quimby, a co-founder of the Burt's Bees line of personal care products, started acquiring land and formed the land-holding company in 2002, "No Hunting" signs went up.
"It touched a nerve," said Garth Glidden, president of the Patten ATV Club.
Starting this week, Elliotsville Plantation will offer broader access to 40,000 acres, now called Katahdin Woods and Waters. Hunters and ATV riders will gain access, which hikers have had. Logging roads will be upgraded, and grouse and deer habitat will be improved to provide "world-class hunting," St. Clair said.
The land is east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, near Shin Pond, Patten and Stacyville, and southwest of Baxter State Park, between Greenville and Brownville Junction.
Glidden said the new policy will have a major impact, as more ATV riders travel between small towns on the land around Baxter State Park.
"It will bring a lot of recreation into the communities, to Patten and Shin Pond and Sherman Station. Before this, we had no way to get to Shin Pond. I think it helps out the community quite a bit," Glidden said.
But sportsmen also see the future as uncertain because of the prospect of a national park.
"It seems like someone is listening," said Don Kleiner, director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. "They essentially locked hunting out of their land and it had an impact on a number of businesses. Since Lucas (St. Clair) has taken over, to his credit, he's done a good job reaching out to people.
"But the whole federal presence still makes us all nervous. Part of the perception is that the feds are an insatiable beast looking to expand their holding and influence, and further restrict activities," Kleiner said. "The devil is in the detail."
Joe Christianson, a hunting guide who lost his bear bait sites when Quimby acquired the land, feels that uncertainty.
At Matagamon Wilderness Camps near Patten, Christianson caters to about 50 bear hunters and as many deer hunters in the fall. He guides for fishing in the spring and serves summer tourists, but hunters make up 60 percent of his annual business, he said. The fear of a national park that would close land to hunting is real for him.
"It is hard telling, if they do get the national park, what's going to happen," Christianson said. "Then everything is subject to change."
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said a national park with a no-hunting and no-snowmobile policy would change the culture in northern Maine.
He said that remains a big concern for snowmobilers, who were written into the land's management plan last winter.
"Every time land that was previously closed is open to people of Maine, (the landowner) should be commended," Meyers said. "But I don't see it as a game-changer."
David Farmer, spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation, said the national park plan, as now envisioned, would turn about 70,000 to 75,000 acres into a traditional national park, where hunting, snowmobiling and ATVs would be prohibited. Another parcel roughly the same size would be a "national recreation area," where such recreation would be allowed.
St. Clair said the park would be created with federal legislation, and he would make sure that legislation maintains a level of access for all users for years to come.
He said the new access policy for Katahdin Woods and Waters is a real example of what's ahead.
"I realize the reservations around the federal government, but Maine has little experience with publicly owned land. Under 5 percent of the land in Maine is publicly owned. And we only have three National Park Service units, and they're unusual," St. Clair said.
Those National Park Service units -- Acadia National Park, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the Appalachian Trail -- offer limited insight into the variety of national parks that exist because of their unusual size or dimensions, he said.
The Allagash and the Appalachian Trail are narrow travel corridors, and Acadia is smaller than other national parks that draw as many as 2.5 million visitors a year.
St. Clair said hunting and snowmobiling are allowed in 70 national park units, out of a total of 401 across the country, and Maine could have one where such activities are allowed if the legislation specifies it.
For now, St. Clair said, he is focused on listening to more people and groups in northern Maine as Elliotsville Plantation's land is used by more people.
"I don't feel (right now) like having national support is as important as having vocal support in the Katahdin region," he said. "By opening up access, the plan is to make this as appealing to as many people there as possible."
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:
n this Jan 28, 2011 file photo, Wassataquoik Stream flows through Township 3, Range 8, Maine, on land owned by Roxanne Quimby and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.