By Phyllis Austin, Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org). 11/24/03
Burt’s Bees Inc. co-founder Roxanne Quimby has purchased one of the highest priority East Branch townships adjacent to Baxter State Park for $12,041,500. The acquisition of Township 5 Range 8 WELS -- all 24,083 acres -- from Irving Woodlands LLC closed Monday and made Quimby the second largest individual wildlands landowner in Maine, with about 40,000 acres.
While negotiating with Irving, Quimby sold 80 percent of her solely owned company to AEA Investors in New York for more than $180 million in order to raise capital for the business and accelerate her North Woods purchases. Large tracts of commercial timberland are continuing to come on the market at a remarkable rate, with some 5.5 million acres trading hands in the last five years.
Quimby remains the chief operating officer and the largest minority owner of Burt's Bees, the popular environmentally friendly personal care products company based in Durham, N. C. Eventually, she will phase herself out of the $50 million a year (sales) business to run her land trust, called Elliotsville Plantation, in Maine. Her goal is to buy as much forestland as possible, help it become truly wild and donate the land for a national park. The environmental organization RESTORE: The North Woods is working to establish a 3.2 million-acre national park and preserve around "forever wild" Baxter State Park. Quimby has been a public advocate of RESTORE’s effort.
Given the controversy surrounding RESTORE's campaign, Quimby's land purchases have made her a lightning rod in that debate. When word leaked out that she might be the buyer of T5R8, park opponents and other local folk gathered at Shin Pond, near Baxter Park's northern entrance, to discuss land ownerships shifts in northern Maine. They feared that Quimby’s purchase could be the beginning of a national park. They anticipated new restrictions on commercial and recreational uses of T5R8 and changes for lessees of seasonal camp lots.
Confirmation that Quimby is indeed the new owner and will change the land uses of T5R8 likely will upset some people all over again. But Quimby asserted her own property rights. "Irving didn't give me this land," she said. "I didn't inherit it. I didn't win the lottery. I sweated and worked for years and earned the privilege of being the steward."
Quimby is not one to avoid facing her questioners and accepted an invitation to discuss her vision for the North Woods at the Industrial Forestry Forum on Dec. 4 in Brewer. "Perhaps no other person in Maine's forestry circles inspires a similar mixture of suspicion, frustration, intrigue and respect than Roxanne Quimby," the forum's announcement says. "Whether you agree with her strategy or not, Ms. Quimby is practicing a personal land ethic like no one else since former Maine governor Percival Baxter, who spent years during the 20s acquiring tracts as a prelude to a state park."
Before Quimby completed the deal with Irving, she had already purchased a total of 15,921 acres for just over $7.1 million in a three-year period. The only individual who owns more of the North Woods than Quimby is media billionaire John Malone, who holds 70,000 south of Jackman in western Maine.
In mulling over whether to go after the expensive T5R8, Quimby called Baxter Park "a strong persuader and compelling neighbor." Her purchase will provide a critical buffer to the park from potential development and allow the cut-over land to recover to a state of wildness comparable to its neighboring preserve.
The natural features that make the township so valuable from a protection standpoint are that it contains the eastern slopes of the impressive Traveler mountain range and both sides of the East Branch of the Penboscot River for 10 miles, starting at the outlet of Matagamon Lake. The river has several notable whitewater rapid sections -- Grand Pitch, Haskell Rock Pitch, the Hulling Machine, Stair Falls and Pond Pitch -- making it a first-rate canoe trip.
(Photo: David Martin)
Quimby's acquisition of T5R8 took on great importance when conservationists lost the bid on the other three Irving townships that border on Baxter Park's east side. Logging contractor/developers William T. Gardner and Herb Haynes bought 47,000 acresin T2R8, T3R8 and T4R8, for a reported $30 million plus. Gardner snared the "crown jewel" of the East Branch – all of T3R8 -- that includes exquisite Katahdin Lake, the eastern slopes of the Turner mountain range and a significant roadless area. The average price was $800 an acre – four times what Mead/Westvaco got for 659,000 acres in Maine and New Hampshire recently.
Haynes paid $475 an acre for 12,500 acres he purchased last summer from Irving in T5R7 and T4R7 (adjacent to Quimby’s new land). Quimby’s $500 an acre cost for T5R8 reflected its proximity to Baxter Park and its long East Branch shoreline. "But that’s what real estate value is all about . . . unique location," she said.
Irving put T5R8 on the market last fall, along with the rest of its East Branch lands totalling more than 71,000 acres, as well as 43,000 acres in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway area. The state and the non-profit Trust for Public Land (TPL) submitted an acquisition proposal to Irving earlier in June for all of the townships. They were admittedly stunned at the price Irving was able to get from Gardner in particular because it (exploded the idea of market appraisal.)
"In light of this [purchase] announcement by Roxanne Quimby, the state continues a high level of interest in lands east of Baxter and Irving’s land around the Allagash," said Ralph Knoll, supervisor of planning and land acquisition for the Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands. The state is exploring the possibility of purchasing conservation easements from Gardiner and/or Haynes to protect some areas, such as the Wassataquoik watershed.
Buzz Caverly, director of Baxter Park, responded that Quimby's purchase and that of businessman Charles FitzGerald earlier this year "is most interesting. I'm pleased that conservationists like them have been successful in their negotiations. My congratulations to those who are deeply involved in the preservation of our natural resources for generations to come," he said. Caverly added that Percival Baxter "set an example during difficult times from 1931 to 1962. Conservationists today are truly challenged as well, and their commitments and successes are admirable."
FitzGerald bought the vintage Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps in T3R8 from longtime owners Al and Sue Cooper for $395,000 a year ago (see report), and tried to negotiate with Irving for 15,000 acres around the lake and an important unroaded tract in the Wassataquoik watershed containing old growth stands. But he, like the state, was unsuccessful. Now, William T. Gardner is FitzGerald's leaseholder. FitzGerald rents 31 acres underneath the sporting camps, a longtime artists’ haven.
Fraser/Nexfor owns the northern half of T4R8 between the Haynes and Quimby purchases. Quimby has talked with Fraser about buying their interest. Fraser is considering a sale, she said, "but it's on the backburner" because the company is busy with other higher priority matters right now.
Prior to buying T5R8, Quimby put in a bid for Hancock Timber Resources’ "Katahdin Forest," a 32,180-acre tract southeast of Greenville that encompasses all of Katahdin Iron Works Township (T6R9 NWP) and part of Bowdoin College Grant East (T7R10 NWP). She, as well as the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), was outbid by Carrier Timberlands in a blind auction held by LandVest. Carrier’s winning bid was $10.56 million, or $330 an acre. The Carrier brothers, a Canadian family with an office in Jackman, also paid Hancock $2.5 million in 2000 for 4,407 acres in Blanchard Township west of Monson.
The viewshed of a significant stretch of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) was the main attraction of conservationists on the "Katahdin Forest" tract, which includes Gulf Hagas scenic gorge, Whitecap Mt., Screw Auger Falls and remote ponds. Quimby bid on only one of 14 large parcels Hancock was offering in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York – a total of 212,000 acres worth an estimated $100 million. The Carrier family is reportedly interested in discussing a conservation easement deal to help pay for the "Katahdin Forest" tract.
When negotiating with Irving, Quimby said she was treated as a business professional. "I don’t think politics extended into the situation. Both Herb Haynes and Roxanne Quimby are their customers," she said. Quimby complimented Irving’s operations manager Chuck Gadzik for being "cordial, polite and accommodating" with meeting arrangements.
Quimby’s intent for her latest property will be "wildlife sanctuary" -- a designation that will mirror the management of the adjoining Baxter township, T5R9. "I'm interested in creating wilderness to allow natural processes to evolve" and where human impacts are as minimal as possible, she said. In keeping with her policy for her other conservation lands, there will be no timber harvesting and no hunting in T5R8. Motorized access will be limited, Quimby said.
At the present, there are two significant gravel roads to leased camps and one major logging road. "The whole traffic management issue needs to be looked at," Quimby said. "I’d like to keep roads to a minimum." Irving had finished logging in T5R8 when a purchase and sales agreement was signed with Quimby last summer. The contract caused the company to close the main timber haul road, and it has remained shut.
"Irving has been letting me know that their colleagues are upset that I may be closing logging roads [permanently]," said Quimby. "These folks are quite alarmed I would shut out their most expeditious way to market." (Specifically, Fraser/Nexfor is concerned, she said, and maybe William T. Gardner.)
Traditionally, industrial landowners have traded road access, but Quimby said her purchase "changes the paradigm. I don't want what they have to trade . . . because I am not in the logging business and don't need roads for access."
However, Quimby is a realist and is interested in working out a compromise on roads. "It would not help, from an environmental standpoint, to send logging trucks 60 miles when they could travel eight [through T5R8] to get to where they need to go," she said.
Quimby called on the neighboring landowners to put up land in exchange for road passage. She suggested that she could trade T5R8 land on the east side of the East Branch for other lands -- say in the remote Wassataquoik valley. It could resolve logging hauling, recreational and other needs, she said. "Everyone can win, but everybody has to pay."
A major snowmobile trail (ITS 85) goes past the Bowlin sporting camps on the west side of the East Branch in T5R8, and sledders like to stop at the facility for a meal or overnight accommodation. Snowmobile use will have to be re-examined in light of her goals for the land, Quimby said.
Besides the Bowlin camps, Quimby has nine other lessees on both sides of the river.
All lessees currently access their camps by vehicle. Quimby is raising their lease rents to reflect fair market values, she said, a change she instituted when she purchased land in Elliottsville Plantation with seven lessees. The current rent "doesn't come close to covering the taxes and expenses," she said.
The leases likely will be renewed annually, but things on that score were uncertain, Quimby said. "I think in their heart-of-hearts, they know it's not a secure thing." While lessees have a contract, they will not be allowed to transfer the camp lot by sale, gift or other means. Lessees will be prohibited from cutting trees for firewood, from hunting and from dumping garbage on the property. They also will have to name Quimby on their camp insurance policy in order to protect her from liability. Lessees will not be allowed to erect new buildings on their leased lot nor will they be able to remove their buildings upon abandonment.
The commercial Bowlin camps, dating back to 1895, "are in a special category," Quimby said, indicating that she might treat them differently from the individual lessees. "I don’t want to be disruptive of anyone’s business," she said. Quimby plans to sit down with the camp owners and "come up with a solution that works for everybody."
(RESTORE: The North Woods)
As she acquires large tracts of land, Quimby said she is sensitive to the question, "Is it right for one person to call all the shots? I can understand that people don't want me to shut down their recreation and call [the land] all mine. That's not my way of stewardship," she said, reiterating her desire to save the land for a national park that means all Americans have a say in its uses.
"It's the most democratic and patriotic" kind of ownership -- a one person, one vote situation, Quimby said. She praised the National Park Service's land management over the last 100 years, especially for setting aside areas for "quiet enjoyment." Again, she came back to the art of negotiation and compromise to work through conflicting use issues.
Back to Burt's Bees, Quimby is excited about her new business partners and the arrangement she has made with them. "I feel the company was bursting at the seems -- like an adult child living in an apartment." It needed an infusion of capital to take advantage of market growth demands, she said.
Quimby said that an investment banker worked for over a year looking for a complimentary buyer for her company. There were 40 potential buyers, and that number was narrowed down to 12 and then to six. AES, a Wall Street buyout firm with five principals. "We get along very well," she said. "I have a lot of respect for them and trust them. They are very understanding and sensitive [to Burt's Bees' clientele]."
"For all intents and purposes, not much change changed [since the sale]," according to Quimby. "I am still running the business. I think that will evolve over time. The company now has quite a bit of debt" and a different pressure to perform that will mean "an extra layer of scrutiny" of operations, she said.
Quimby's contract called for her to stay on as chief executive officer for 12 months and also continue as creative director, overseeing product development and packaging. After a year, she will remain creative director until there is another change of ownership or the company goes public. When she transitions into a parttime role, she will be able to spend more time in Maine buying and managing land – and possibly looking at a political career. Quimby appears to be interested in the job once held by Percival Baxter – governor of Maine.
Meanwhile, Quimby will be using the sale proceeds to establish a Maine office for her foundation and hire a staff to run it. When she first began purchasing land, her primary interest was to "get it off the market . . . and I would consider it somewhat safe. I now have about [40,000] acres, and the question is what to do with it," she said. Already an environmental assessment of her lands has revealed two patches of rare orchids in the Bluffer Pond tract in T8R11 WELS west of The Nature Conservancy's Big Reed Preserve. Legendary bush pilot Jack McPhee, who died in a plane crash last April, discovered the orchids years ago and called Quimby's attention to them. She alerted the state’s Natural Areas Program to the orchids’ existence.
A stewardship management plan is being developed now for the Quimby lands. "Immediate restoration is needed on many parts," she said. "They just need to be left alone and some need repairs. I think it will involve challenges along the way," she said, adding that the solutions should provide "lively" debate.
In terms of purchasing other tracts, she said her interest is in lands contiguous to other conservation lands of the state and private organizations. The more land she acquires, the more Quimby said she identifies with "what drove" Percival Baxter to work so hard to make his dream a reality in his own lifetime. "As I get into the second half of my life, I ask myself ‘what have I left behind and what is my legacy’."
"It seems the people of Maine have a reverence for Baxter for what he accomplished," she said. "He did something wonderful, and it lives on forever. I want to do something worth doing," Quimby said. "If I can be an inspiration for others, I’d love to do that."
Go to archive of Phyllis Austin Reports for Maine Environmental News (www.meepi.org).