TERRITORY 5, RANGE 8 – A retired Great Northern Paper Co. millwright and pipe fitter, 68-year-old Dennis Ballard has summered in a small camp overlooking the Penobscot River’s East Branch since 1969.
The camp itself isn’t perfect. It’s a simple 24-by-24-foot building with outdoor plumbing, a wood stove and propane gas heating, but its deck goes right to the edge of the river, and the view, Ballard said, is heavenly.
“It’s very remote, really,” Ballard said. “In summertime there’s a few vehicles, but not many. You could snowmobile in wintertime and fish and whatnot. Just the outdoor part of it is great.”
But that tradition will come to an end starting July 1 because environmentalist Roxanne Quimby plans to terminate the leases of Ballard and four other camp owners a year from that date, Ballard and the other leaseholders said.
Quimby and Bart DeWolf, the science director of Quimby’s nonprofit land conservation foundation, Elliotsville Plantation, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The leaseholders say the terminations are the final phase of a gradual process that began when she bought the land in 2003. With plans to move out before the end of the year, most of them expect that this summer will be their last by the river.
“I am heartbroken, of course,” said Muriel Fortier, 92, of Winthrop, who leases a camp near Ballard’s. “I have been living off the land and alone for the last 15 to 18 years, and it’s been my lifeline up there. I am just this month turning 93, and I am going back up this summer, but that will be it.”
Ballard said, “We used to hunt, four-wheel or snowsled up here, but you can’t do any of those things since she has taken over.
“I have a lot of memories there, and had a lot of fun. I just hate walking away and leaving everything,” said Ballard, who lives in Hermon.
A laudable but controversial quest
Quimby purchased the 24,000-acre T5 R8 parcel from J.D. Irving Ltd. in 2003 for about $12 million. The self-made millionaire has been buying forestland for preservation since 2000 and has said she hopes the forests will someday be protected as a national park and preserve.
Quimby’s quest to protect nature from the ravages of man is both laudable and controversial, and her multimillion dollar land purchases – she owns about 45,095 acres in 15 parcels around Baxter State Park, including about 8,171 acres of which she holds 85 percent ownership – attract attention from national publications such as the New York Times and Yankee Magazine.
But it’s the less nationally publicized aspects of her dream that make Quimby Public Enemy No. 1 to many who live in the 3.2 million acres known as the Maine North Woods: the eviction of leaseholders, the denial of “traditional rights” access to sportsmen to the land she owns, and the presumed shrinkage of forest products lands that fuel paper mills and other components of the state’s largest manufacturing industry.
“I wouldn’t dare to tell you what I could call her for it, but I think she has hurt so many people up there,” Fortier said. “If she were to treat people decent up there and treat it like [previous owner] Great Northern Paper and Irving did through the years, we wouldn’t have any problems with her.”
“Certainly it’s always concerning to me to hear about people losing leases,” said Eugene Conlogue, Millinocket town manager and vice president of the Maine Woods Coalition, which opposes the creation of a national park and any attempts to destroy traditional rights access.
“There is a very unique relationship between landowners and others granted the opportunity to enjoy that land,” Conlogue said. “That relationship is starting to change, and I think that those are the type of things that concern people.”
To an outsider, it sounds almost absurd: People who don’t own land take as their right the use of it for hunting or snowmobiling and for often nominal leasing fees build seasonal homes on it.
But reverse the scenario and you see equal absurdity. How can someone who owns 45,000 acres of rugged, almost impassible woodlands expect to control what happens on that land? How can they expect to keep anybody out?
That reality is perhaps how the traditional rights concept grew to almost govern land usage here for several generations. Over decades, many leaseholders invested heavily in their leased properties, even though the leases made clear that owners could terminate the agreements whenever they chose.
Galen “Chip” Humphrey, a 58-year-old industrial engineer from Wells who owns a camp near Fortier’s, recognizes the dilemma. Quimby, he said, “is trying to be fair, but I always thought I would leave this to my grandkids … My brother has over $100,000 [invested] in his property.”
The camps, Fortier said, became the pride of their occupants, particularly in her camp area, where camp leaseholders have owned their leases on average 25 years. Some camps have been there for about 70 years, she said.
“Camp owners looked over the land, improved it, and there are super people that live up north there,” Fortier said. “It’s not easy to live up there in such a remote place.”
Besides camp owners, hosts of local businesses catering to hunters and snowmobilers sprung up around that access. Land access and tree harvesting have been staples of the state’s $13.6 billion tourism industry and its $7 billion forest products industry.
Quimby typically denies snowmobiling, ATV riding, forestry and hunting on her lands, but does allow hiking and other passive activities.
‘No real solution to it’
Yet all those who oppose Quimby concede that there is no immediate way to prevent her or other preservationists from buying up land. Her actions, they say, are not illegal, just callous.
“We really don’t have a plan,” Conlogue said. “It’s a very complex issue. People have a lot of leases in this area, but it still comes down to an agreement between leaseholder and property owner, and the owner always retains a right to cancel those leases.”
Late last month, Conlogue told the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission that its latest comprehensive land-use plan favors environmentalists and threatens traditional rights and the state’s forest products industry. He urged LURC to take steps to protect the forest products industry and reward landowners for recognizing traditional rights. The land-use plan is still being formulated.
Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, and West Enfield resident Stu Kallgren, president of the Maine Leaseholders Association, helped create Clark’s Leaseholders Bill of Rights. The bill offered price controls on leases and other safeguards to help keep leaseholders from being forced to give up their camps.
But the measure never got out of committee, though Clark has said he hopes to revive it next session. Kallgren could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Chip Humphrey said he visited a lawyer in Kennebunk and was told he couldn’t save himself from eviction.
“There’s no real solution to it,” Humphrey said.
Predicting that her land purchases around Baxter State Park will eventually form the national park few northern Mainers want, Humphrey expressed fear for the eventual impact of environmental preservationists like Quimby upon tourism and the state forest products industry.
“She will shut down East Millinocket and Millinocket and not allow them to do snowmobiling through her property,” he said. “What if every lease was voided after a certain number of years? That is what I think is going to be a real problem.”
‘I haven’t heard anybody complaining’
The state forest products industry has its problems, Rosaire Pelletier says, but environmentalism isn’t one of them.
Gov. John Baldacci’s senior forest products adviser and officials from the state Department of Conservation see little chance of environmentalist land purchases threatening state industry.
The state has an estimated 17.7 million acres of forest land. Of that, 11.1 million is in tree growth. Of that, 7.5 million is in unorganized territories and 3.6 million is in organized territories, said Donald Mansius, director of forest policy and management of the Maine Forest Service, a bureau within the Maine Department of Conservation.
Thanks to the conversion of farms to forest lands, the 17.7 million acres represents a slight increase since 1995, he said, despite rapid loss of forest lands in southern Maine.
Quimby’s 45,095 acres are arrayed near Baxter State Park in Territory 3, Range 7; Territories 4 and 5 in Range 8; and Elliotsville Township, said Bob Doiron, supervisor of Unorganized Territory in the Maine Revenue Service Property Tax Division.
The state averages 6 million to 7 million cords of wood harvested and grows about 7 million cords annually, Mansius said – about the same amounts harvested in 1995.
“It all depends on the market, but the absolute supply of wood is less of an issue today than it was a decade ago,” Mansius said. “We have about 80 percent more wood in standing volume out in the Maine woods than we did in the 1950s.”
Balancing the fiber needs of paper mills with fledgling wood pellet and biofuels industry efforts, the energy crunch, and increasing infrastructure capacity on railroads and roads to get more fiber from the woods are the forest products industries biggest challenges, Pelletier said.
“I haven’t heard anybody complaining about environmentalists,” Pelletier said. “There is always a concern there, but I haven’t heard anything.”
Yet Mansius agreed with one point Conlogue made.
“I see the bigger threat to Maine’s forests is the lack of policies to encourage people to keep their land in active management,” he said, “and the challenge is more in southern Maine, where forest land is disappearing at an alarming rate.”
‘She stepped on so many toes’
For the Quimby leaseholders of T5 R8, the only thing left to do is pack.
Most said they plan on moving what personal items they could from their camps by the end of the summer, or sooner. Paying another year on a lease that would terminate on June 1, 2009, didn’t make much sense to most of them.
“We don’t get anything for our camps,” Ballard said. “We either have to tear them down or move them or burn them or whatever, I guess … The camp is probably worth $50,000, maybe, if you could sell it.”
Humphrey expected that the move would cause him some big difficulty. Moving things in and out of such a remote area will not be easy, he said.
“I can’t drag it all off there in a year,” he said. “What I have up there took me 25 years to build, and I can’t remove it in less than a year. I can’t do it. I live 300 miles away and have a fulltime job, and I need some time to get my personal property off there.”
Ballard expressed the wish that elderly campers such as himself could have been grandfathered from the eviction until they died.
Fortier found irony in Quimby, who advertises her affinity for all things natural, objecting to the continued presence of campers such as herself, who grew their own vegetables, made maple syrup, cut their own wood, caught fish and generally lived in harmony with the outdoors.
“We did it all up there,” Fortier said. “No one up there that I know has ever done any damage to anything up there. We were just enjoying our lives up there.”
“I give her credit, in a way, because she did make a powerful lot of money, but she stepped on so many toes on the way up. I would not be very proud of what she has achieved,” Fortier said.
“I don’t want to have much to do with her. I don’t care if I ever meet her.”