Irving Land For Sale On Baxter Park’s Border

Irving Land For Sale On Baxter Park’s Border

By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News ( 11/22/02

The Irving lands for sale include extensive frontage along the East Branch of the Penobscot River, including popular Grand Pitch and whitewater sections.
(Photo credit: Anyplace Wild)

Irving Woodlands LLC is looking for a buyer for its lands on the eastern border of Baxter State Park, according to Chuck Gadzik, the Canadian-based company’s operations manager for Maine. The possibility that the park will acquire the land appears virtually nil because of the cost and concern that expanding the preserve would stir a hornet’s nest of opposition similar to that over the West Branch lands acquisition.

Irving wants to sell its land in Township 5, Range 8; T4, R8; T3, R8; and T2, R8. The company owns all of T5, R8 and T3, R 8 and half of the other two townships. Fraser is the owner of the other half of T4, R8, and Prentiss & Carlisle Inc. manages the other half of T2, R8 for various owners. Irving’s ownership totals approximately 75,000 acres in the four townships.

Gadzik declined to talk price. But parent company J. D. Irving Ltd. bought one million acres, including the land bordering the park, from Bowater Inc. in 1998 for $220 million, or $220 an acre. Baxter Park paid approximately $200 an acre for the 3,315 acres it purchased on its southern border in 1998 and 1992.

The Irving lands for sale include extensive frontage along the East Branch of the Penobscot River, including popular Grand Pitch and whitewater sections, as well as the lower section of Wassataquoik Stream. It also contains remote Katahdin Lake, which to some people is Maine’s most beautiful lake, and several mountain peaks.

The Irving land contains remote Katahdin Lake, which to some people is Maine’s most beautiful lake, and several mountain peaks.
(Photo credit: Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps)

Irving is the state’s largest landowner, with 1,550,000 acres. "We have identified those [four townships] as areas that are not really strategic to our timber management and mills," said Gadzik on Nov. 20. There are other Irving lands farther north that are "on the fence," in terms of Irving’s interest in keeping them, and Gadzik said the company "would look at those" to sell if an interested party came along, he said. Included in that list are townships bordering the state-owned Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Lee Perry, chairman of the Baxter Park Authority and commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, acknowledged contact by Irving about the park’s potential interest in buying the lands. He indicated to Gadzik that the park was not in a position to act now on a purchase opportunity.

Gadzik and Irving Woodlands president Jim Irving Jr. met with Gov. Angus King and Commissioner of Conservation Ron Lovaglio in June to discuss possible purchase of the lands by the state. (Baxter Park, while owned by the state, is independent of the state parks and lands system and is financially self-sufficient.)

In a letter dated Aug. 6, Lovaglio responded to Jim Irving that the state has a "strong interest" in the four townships" because they "appear to have interesting natural resource attributes and public recreation opportunities. Additionally, I would like to explore what strategic conservation opportunities may exist within your ownership along" the Allagash waterway, the commissioner said.

Commissioner of Conservation Ron Lovaglio

However, Lovagalio said it would take time and money "to make the project successful. As with our other large projects, one of the resources is to bring in a partner," he wrote. "If we agree to move forward, we can discuss in more detail the benefits a partner can bring to the project for both of us and whom that partner might be."

The state would need six months to develop a detailed proposal, Lovaglio said. "We would work with our partner to identify potential funding sources and flesh our project details," using the staff of DOC, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Baxter State Park, he said. At least an additional two years "would mostly likely be needed to get to a formal closing," Lovaglio said. "While I’m chagrined that our acquisition efforts have such long lead time, this time is necessary because of the number of transactions we are involved in and the amount of land conservation that is occurring in Maine."

Gadzik, formerly head of the Maine Forest Service, knows all too well that "the state moves on a slow track [on land transactions], and it’s probable that a sale to the state is the least possible," he said. Thus, Irving has let other parties know about its lands for sale. "Some other people have expressed interest," he said. Gadzik indicated that those unidentified parties are interested in the lands for values other than timber.

Irving’s record is that of a company that buys, not sells, land. In Maine, the sale of the four townships would be the first time that Irving has put land on the market, Gadzik said. "Our interest is not in removing lands from our ownership but changing them" for more important tracts, Gadzik said. "We are always looking at what’s strategic to our timber management objectives.

Baxter Authority chairman Perry explained that the 204,733-acre wilderness park is not pursuing a potential purchase at this time because of finances and potential political issues. The park depends on various trust fund interest earnings to support operations, and there is only $42,000 left in the land acquisition fund following two purchases in the last decade. The 2,269 acres on the West Branch of the Penobscot River were acquired in 1998 from Bowater Inc. for $480,000. In 1992, the park purchased from Georgia Pacific 1,046 acres around Togue Pond at the southern entrance to the park for $200,000.

Another concern is whether expanding the park again would provoke a West Branch lands-like controversy over drive-in access, hunting and trapping. Lobbying by sportsmen kept the parcel out of the"wildlife sanctuary" area, the protective designation that covers most of the park.

Commercial sporting camp on Katahdin Lake.
(Photo credit: Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps)

There’s a commercial sporting camp on Katahdin Lake in T 3, R4, Perry noted, and there have been difficulties recently with the owners, Al and Sue Cooper, over access. The park allows the Coopers’ clients to use the park’s Roaring Brook Road, a parking area at Avalanche Field and a park trail to reach the footpath to the sporting camp. (The facility is on land leased from Irving.) But that traditional way is not guaranteed to be available to a new owner, Perry wrote the Coopers on July 23.

The Coopers have been trying to sell the business for several years and contend that the lack of secure access has turned off would-be buyers. There is vehicle access to within a short distance of the sporting camp over an Irving logging road, and Chuck Gadzik said he has told the Coopers that Irving "doesn’t have an issue" with them using it to service the facility.

See other reports filed by Phyllis Austin for Maine Environmental News.