In Maine's North Woods, forests and rivers that used to feed paper mills will now be permanently protected as a national monument — thanks to a donation by the co-founder of Burt's Bees.
President Obama announced the creation of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday, just one day before the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
The designation of the woods as protected territory has been in the works for years — and has been controversial among locals, who worried about federal oversight of lands that used to be central to the regional economy.
The new monument encompasses some 87,500 acres of "awe-inspiring mountains, forests and waters," as the White House puts it. The land "is rich in biodiversity and known for its outstanding opportunities to hike, canoe, hunt, fish, snowmobile, snowshoe and cross-country ski," the administration notes.
Susan Sharon of Maine Public Radio put it a little more poetically earlier this year:
"The heart of the North Woods, about 3.5 million acres, remains the largest undeveloped territory east of the Rockies. This is the same continuousness of forest that captivated naturalist Henry David Thoreau 150 years ago. Still mostly uninhabited, it's a place that crawled with rugged lumberjacks armed with heavy axes, where logs by the millions were floated downriver to mill towns that sprung up out of the woods themselves."
The monument, which will be managed by the National Park Service, will allow those recreational activities while also protecting natural resources.
It was established with a donation of land and tens of millions of dollars, all from Roxanne Quimby.
Along with Burt Shavitz, she founded a company widely known for its lip balms and other personal care products, as we reported last year:
"Burt's Bees began in 1984 when Shavitz met an artist named Roxanne Quimby. According to the company's website, Quimby 'was thumbing a ride home (back when you could still do that sort of thing). Eventually a bright yellow Datsun pickup truck pulled over, and Roxanne instantly recognized Burt Shavitz, a local fella whose beard was almost as well-known as his roadside honey stand. Burt and Roxanne hit it off, and before long, Roxanne was making candles with unused wax from Burt's beehives. They made $200 at their first craft fair; within a year, they'd make $20,000.'
"The company grew and moved its headquarters to Durham, N.C., in 1993. But Shavitz's partnership with Quimby unraveled in the late '90s. The Daily Beast, citing Shavitz and a documentary titled Burt's Buzz, says the two reached a settlement after Quimby found out Burt had an affair with a college-age girl who worked at one of the Burt's Bees stores.
"Quimby eventually bought out Shavitz. Burt's Bees is now owned by the Clorox Co."
Burt's Bees made Quimby wealthy, and she used her fortune to buy large quantities of former timber land in northern Maine.
But her plans to protect the landscape weren't welcomed by all local residents, as Susan Sharon reported for NPR in 2011:
"For generations, Maine's North Woods have provided pulp for the state's paper mills and created plenty of good jobs in an area with little other economic activity. But now the paper industry is struggling and a mill job is no longer a guarantee. ...
"Quimby used her newfound fortune to buy up land in Maine's North Woods from downsizing paper companies. Some local residents see her as a villain for closing off her land to hunting and snowmobiling — activities the paper companies have long allowed — and for taking it out of timber production."
There were fierce debates over the merits of giving the land to the National Park Service — some saw it as a source of tourist income for the region, others as federal oversight.
Opposition continued up until the declaration of the monument on Wednesday.
"Some locals, including Maine's timber industry, and the Sportsman's Alliance object to federal control of the land, and Maine's congressional delegation refused to back legislation to make the area a national park," NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
"President Obama instead used his executive authority to create the monument," Scott says. "The White House notes that Maine's popular Acadia National Park was created in a similar fashion, a century ago."