Quimby/Gardner Land Swap Will Protect Wassataquoik Stream and Land East of Baxter Park

By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org). 10/26/05

The Wassataquoik area just east of the Baxter State Park border will remain undeveloped and largely unroaded, and its big trees uncut – the outcome hoped for by environmentalists.
(Go to Phyllis Austin Reports for background information on this story.)

Conservation philanthropist Roxanne Quimby and landowner/logger William T. Gardner signed papers October 25th exchanging forestlands – a deal that will stop the proposed bridge over pristine Wassataquoik Stream and protect another significant portion of Baxter State Park’s eastern boundary.

The agreement between Quimby and Gardner is "good for everyone," according to Jim Page, president of James W. Sewall Co. and the go-between for the two parties. The Wassataquoik area under threat will remain undeveloped and largely unroaded, and its big trees uncut – the outcome hoped for by environmentalists.

Businesses and local residents will also get what they wanted. Gardner’s crews will be able to keep working in the woods (just a different tract); snowmobilers and sportsmen will be able to resume their traditional access; and multiple uses of the east side of the East Branch of the Penobscot River in Township 5 Range 8. The Bowlin Sporting Camp will operate again without the restrictions they claimed threatened their livelihood.

The trade of the two parcels -- in Quimby’s Township 5 Range 8 and Gardner’s Township 4 Range 8 -- is also symbolically important. The deal involved strong-willed people who are influential in reconfiguring ownership and management in a new era of North Woods history. Quimby and Gardner set aside their different philosophies and personal feelings and made a commitment to reach accord for the economic and environmental good of the region. Page said that both parties were "well focused and exerted discipline" during the negotiations. Once the talks got back on track from last summer, he said, it was not difficult to come to terms because Quimby and Gardner wanted it to happen. "If all parties would bring the constructive attitude to the table that these two did, a lot could be possible [with regard to additional conservation initiatives in the region]".

There is "something of an understanding developing [in the timber industry] about making [the East Branch] lands something unique . . . with no net loss of timber productivity," Page believes. Burt’s Bees co-founder Quimby, whose wealth comes from the leading natural care products company, wants to acquire more Baxter border lands and hopes that the new working relationship with Gardner is evidence of a shift.

Until now, Quimby had been rebuffed by some landowners because of her advocacy of a national park around Baxter proposed by RESTORE: the North Woods. But she has backed away from a close association with the proposed Maine Woods National Park and Preserve. She would return to her plan to give the lands she is acquiring for the national park if the people of the region change their minds and support the plan. Her other idea is to donate the lands to Baxter Park if they want it. But park officials have expressed no interest in owning the land, she points out. In the meantime, the land will be managed by her foundation called Elliottsville Plantation. In aiming to restore the wilderness character of her lands, Quimby has banned motorized access, logging, hunting and trapping. That same management is being applied to all of her properties that total about 45,000 – 34,000 of it east of Baxter Park.

Bill Gardner, who founded his first woods business in 1961 and now owns about 125,000 acres statewide, agrees that the swap with Quimby is a positive one and commends her for "initiating" a resumption of negotiations. "We went along," he said, adding that yes, he can imagine other landowners in the woods business might be receptive to working with Quimby now.

Quimby traded 14,000 acres in exchange for approximately 10,400 acres from Gardner, according to Gardner’s chief financial officer, Randy Bishop. He said the difference in acreage was based on the greater value of the wood on Gardner’s land.

A minority interest (common and undivided interest from one to 15 percent in various locations on the land) is held by Prentiss & Carlisle Inc. (P&C), a Bangor-based land management company, and not included in the Quimby/Gardner deal. Wilderness advocate and businessman Charles FitzGerald has made an offer to P&C for their interest. He has had a long-term involvement in Baxter Park and a few years ago became the owner of Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps. The facility is land still owned by Gardner south of the Wassataquoik in T3 R8 and leased to FitzGerald.

Marble Fen is unusual among fens in Maine - it has a very diverse flora with a relatively large number of rare species, both flowering plants and mosses. Unity College intern Erika Roderick is doing inventory work in the Marble Fen.

The land Gardner is getting from Quimby in T5R8 has a well-developed road system that will serve his logging needs. Just over 100 acres in Gardner’s tract were retained by Quimby. She will donate her portion of Marble Fen, in the northeast corner of T5R8, to The Nature Conservancy, which already owns adjacent fen land in T6R8 and T6R7. (Marble Fen is unusual among fens in Maine because the water flowing through it has a high pH due to underlying limestone, and it has a very diverse flora with a relatively large number of rare species, both flowering plants and mosses. Protecting all of it will help ensure the integrity of the hydrology on which the fen depends. See Bangor Daily News article.)

The T5R8 forest has been cutover in recent years. But there’s enough stumpage to make it desirable to Gardner. He employs 150 people and has another 50 to 75 subcontractors. "We need to keep a land base to keep people working," Gardner said, explaining why he wanted a land trade rather than money for his T4R8 parcel.

Quimby’s new holding assures protection of about eight miles of Wassataquoik Stream in T4R8. The forest doesn’t appear to be as old as that around Katahdin Lake, according to ecologist Bart DeWolf, who works for Quimby. "But a detailed assessment will have to await an on-the-ground survey."

From an aerial survey, DeWolf surmised that the most recent logging occurred five to 10 years ago, and haul roads are limited to the east of Big Robar Pond. Farther west, the forest is noticeably older, he said. The roadless area extends west from the pond about 3.5 miles to the boundary with Baxter Park and beyond. The valley north of Wassataquoik and west of Robar Brook appears to not have been logged in many years. The forest is older away from the riparian zone along Wassataquoik Stream and is mostly a patchwork of softwood and mixed woods. Older hardwoods predominate in the area immediately west of Big Robar Pond.

View of T5R8.

"The current ecological significance of the forest west of the pond derives primarily from its relatively unroaded condition, its freedom from recent human disturbance, and its proximity to Baxter Park to the west and other undeveloped lands to the south around Katahdin Lake," said DeWolf. Unfragmented forest, he explained, is important for animals that need deep woods habitat, seclusion and large home ranges. Forests not significantly altered by human activities allow the return to natural processes and protect the integrity of natural communities, watersheds and aquatic resources. "Forests of this quality are rare in Maine at present," said DeWolf.

There is also a mid-sized wetland complex with glacial boulders surrounded by older softwood forest associated with Robar Pond and Robar Stream, he said. There are scattered wetlands and floodplains along Wassataquoik Stream and some patches of floodplain forest of silver maple or balsam popular.

The T4R8 tract Quimby bought is adjacent to about 10,000 acres that she owns in adjacent T3R7.


The lands east of Baxter, once part of the old Great Northern Paper domain, were put on the market in 2002 when Irving Woodlands Inc. decided to sell 71,000 acres on the East Branch of the Penobscot River. The state and Charles FitzGerald made unsuccessful efforts to purchase all four townships of the so-called East Branch lands, but they couldn’t meet Irving’s price and conditions of sale.

Maine’s two biggest landowner/contractors, Gardner and H. C. Haynes, showed Irving enough money -- $30 million -- and walked away with almost 50,000 acres. Gardner acquired 25,000 acres – all of the T3R8 township and the southern part of T4R8. Haynes bought approximately the same amount of land in T2R8. Haynes also acquired from Irving T5 R7, the township east of T5R8 that borders Baxter’s Traveler mountain range.

Concerned that the other East-Branch lands bordering Baxter might be harvested and subdivided, Quimby went after T5R8. She paid $12 million for the whole township of 24,000 acres in November, 2004.

Quimby hired DeWolf to do an ecological survey of her land to see how its wilderness character could be reestablished. She notified also the 10 lease holders in T5R8 that she was limiting the customary recreational uses and eventually evicting them from their camps. Quimby’s access prohibition was a big blow to Bowlin Pond Camps, her only commercial leaseholder, and to snowmobilers because it meant shutting off a popular major artery, ITS 85, that runs through T5R8 connecting Katahdin region to Aroostook County. Bowlin depends heavily on snowmobile traffic.

Local people were infuriated at Quimby’s actions. They foresaw a widespread negative impact on the Matagamon area economy that depends on sportsmen and snowmobilers and reinvigorated the on-going statewide controversy over the transfer of large tracts from the old timberland owners to individuals, especially wealthy people from away.

Quimby felt that "much of the stinging criticism I was subjected to was aimed at me personally, which I found discouraging and unfair." But the former back-to-the-lander, who built Burt’s Bees from scratch, continued to try to buy more East Branch lands.

Gardner and Haynes started cutting their lands right away. Those interested in the preservation of the Katahdin Lake and Wassataquoik area were most alarmed about Gardner’s operations that were targeting the old growth and mature trees of 100-plus years old.

Bowlin Pond Camps on the East branch of the Penobscot River.

Quimby and Charles FitzGerald joined with the state in an effort to buy out Gardner, as his logging crews cut month after month in the woods they hoped to protect. The negotiations among all the parties were torturous. Discussions between Gardner and the conservation parties’ third party, the Trust for Public Lands, ended with no agreement. Quimby, FitzGerald and the state parted ways too.

The state then began talking to Gardner about buying just a 6,000-acre parcel around Katahdin Lake. It was a very slow process, but Gardner agreed and stopped cutting old growth south of the lake last summer, leaving intact the old forest between the west side of the lake and Baxter park.

Gardner continued to be interested in a land swap with Quimby, but Quimby needed some distance from negotiations after her association with the state fell through. "Many misunderstandings and miscommunications surrounded these swap talks, which had gone on for at least a year if not more," said Quimby. "Too many parties had entered the discussion, including state representatives and various non-profit groups, which added too much complexity and confusion."


The catalyst for Quimby was Gardner’s proposal to LURC to build a large, concrete bridge over the Wassataquoik at Orin Falls – the first major development on the stream.

Having pretty much finished cutting south of the Wassataquoik, Gardner needed to move on to the timber north of the stream – or find other woods to keep his harvesting crews employed. In documents filed with LURC, Gardner said he wrote to his abutting neighbor Quimby to ask for access to his T4R8 land over her existing roads – a way in that would avoid bridging the Wassataquoik.

When she didn’t reply, Gardner filed an application with the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) on July 12 to build a concrete bridge. Gardner had two partners in the $350,000 project – P&C and Lakeville Shores Inc., a H. C. Haynes development entity. Quimby went on record a couple of weeks later saying that she was willing to deal with Gardner. "Nothing is to be gained by being obstinate and stubborn and letting the stream and forest pay the price," she stated.

Dick Anderson and Don Hudson of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) played a pivotal role in getting Quimby back into negotiations with Gardner by taking her to Orin Falls on August 15 to see the area first-hand. (Their special interest in having the area protected was the IAT. They want to get the trail off the highway east of Baxter Park and route it by Katahdin Lake and over Deasey Mountain toward Canada.)

"One beautiful warm, sunny day this summer, Don and Dick drove me up there," she said. "We sat on the rocks in the stream, had lunch, took pictures and got acquainted with this beautiful region, which I had not seen until then." Hudson, head of Chewonki Foundation, recalled that Quimby was "taken by the spot. The land did the talking."

Gardner wasn’t anxious to fight for a bridge permit before LURC. "My one experience with LURC [was that] I got the short end of the stick." (LURC rejected a proposal from Gardner to subdivide backcountry ponds north of Baxter Park in 1996).

Wassataquoik advocates began mounting an anti-bridge campaign shortly after LURC received the bridge permit request. The Natural Resource Council of Maine (NRCM), Maine Audubon Society, Friends of Baxter Park and Maine Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) urged LURC to deny the application and to hold a public hearing.


Gardner said he would withdraw the bridge proposal the day after signing the land swap papers with Quimby.

Cathy Johnson, North Woods Project director for NRCM, said her organization was "relieved and thrilled to hear" about the land trade and the end of the bridge project. "Thanks to this land trade, important lands bordering Baxter State Park will not be logged, while Gardner will be able to log in more suitable areas," she said. "Wassataquoik Stream is one of the finest streams in Maine and is of national significance because of its ecological resources, important sea-run and inland fisheries, gorgeous scenery and fabulous paddling opportunities."

The hardest part of the negotiations for Quimby was giving up the east bank of the East Branch in T5R8. "Once I own land to be preserved, I don’t like to give it up," she said. "But that’s what compromise is all about." The shoreline is already protected 250 feet back from high water by the state. The boundary that Quimby and Gardner agreed on was the middle of the river.

Gardner said that one day his great, great grandchildren might be dismayed that he traded the T4R8 parcel and has agreed to sell other land in T3R8 when it could have reaped millions if he had subdivided it. "I might look like the dumbest landowner ever," he remarked. "But I also have been up there in winter . . . and we have to do what we have to do for our employees now. I still own some land [in T3R8]," he said, but added that he has no plans for development.

The T4R8 tract Quimby bought is adjacent to about 10,000 acres that she owns in adjacent T3R7. There are scattered wetlands and floodplains along Wassataquoik Stream and some patches of floodplain forest of silver maple or balsam popular.

He currently retains about 13,000 acres in T3R8 but 6,000 acres of that is the land he plans to sell to the state in a cash and land trade agreement. "It’s no secret the state is interested in saving this land" west of Katahdin Lake, said Dave Soucy, director of the state Bureau of Parks and Lands. The deal hasn’t closed yet because it must go to the legislature for approval because it involves swapping scattered public lots. A two-thirds legislative vote will be necessary to pass the land trade bill.

Of the deal between Quimby and Gardner, Soucy said, "It insures good ecological stewardship of very precious land and helps avoid a culture war [over the proposed bridge]."

Still unprotected on Baxter’s eastern border are land in T4R8 and T2R8. Quimby tried to buy the 8,500 acres T4R8 when it was owned by Fraser Paper. Recently she made an overture to the new owner, Heartland Forestland Fund V, through its land manager, P&C, but there has been no movement. That tract is between her land in T5R8 and T4R8. Quimby is also interested in Herb Haynes’ land in T2R8.

If Quimby and other conservation parties are able to protect the three tracts outstanding, approximately 80 percent of the 71,000 acres of the East Branch lands will have been saved. The area will play a critical role in Baxter Park’s future as Maine’s premier wilderness area.

Go to archive of Phyllis Austin Reports for Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org).