Called to the Wild | Lucas St. Clair’s Controversial Conservation Mission

Lucas St. Clair’s mission was nearly impossible: to win support for Maine’s biggest swath of national park land despite controversy around its benefactor— who also happens to be his mother.

By Ian Aldrich

Jan 02 2018


The 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument stands in part as a testament to the doggedness of Lucas St. Clair.

Photo Credit : Little Outdoor Giants
The 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument stands in part as a testament to the doggedness of Lucas St. Clair.
The 87,500-acre Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument stands in part as a testament to the doggedness of Lucas St. Clair.
Photo Credit : Little Outdoor Giants

It’s the morning of August 24, 2016, and Lucas St. Clair is anxiously pacing his second-floor downtown office in Portland, Maine, an iPhone pressed tightly against his ear. Both exhausted and energized, St. Clair, president of the private land-conservation group Elliotsville Plantation, has calls to make. People to thank. Congratulations to accept. as he paces, he never strays far from “mission control”: a long conference table blanketed with laptops, cellphones, and a scattering of water bottles and coffee cups. As St. Clair chats, the others in the room—his wife, Yemaya; his adviser, David Farmer; and two outside consultants, Barrett Kaiser and Maria Weeg—are hammering the refresh button on their browsers, which are locked in on the White House press release website.

Over the past five years, St. Clair has poured his life into getting 87,500 acres of his family’s property in northern Maine, just east of Mount Katahdin, named a national park monument. He’s made hundreds of trips to the region for coffees, meetings, and press tours; in the past two years alone he racked up 60,000 miles on his Jeep Cherokee. In between were frequent flights to Washington, D.C., to talk with legislators, cabinet members, and department heads about the merits of the monument designation.

In the northern Maine community of Millinocket and the small towns that surround it, some have seen St. Clair as a savior to a region reeling from the demise of the paper industry. To others, he’s a rich interloper hell-bent on upending a way of life and inserting the federal government into hard-core mountain and forest towns, places where local control is a prized commodity. There have been handshakes and hugs, insults and death threats.

St. Clair at an old hunting camp on the park property.
St. Clair at an old hunting camp on the park property.
Photo Credit : Little Outdoor Giants

St. Clair picked up the cause where his mother, Roxanne Quimby, had left off. Beginning around 2000, she began directing part of the fortune she’d made from selling Burt’s Bees, the personal-care products company she’d cofounded nearly 20 years before, toward buying swaths of abandoned timberland from northern Maine’s struggling paper companies. To Quimby, it was a chance to protect what didn’t always get protected—the woods and waters—and perhaps reinvigorate the local economy. But a decade of opposition to both Quimby and her idea for a national park wore her down, and in late 2011 she tapped her son to lead the effort. 

Slowly, St. Clair found success where his mother had not. Local businesses and the regional chamber of commerce backed the park idea. Two of the state’s largest newspapers, the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, voiced their support. But the clearest sign—to the public, anyway—that St. Clair had triumphed came on the day when he and others gathered in his office as the Quimby land was turned over to the U.S. Department of the Interior. The next morning, as St. Clair works his phone, the announcement by President Barack Obama of the new National Park Service monument will be simply a formality.

Still, the 39-year-old St. Clair, a tall man with a thatch of dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard that allows him to fit in with both woodsmen and Beltway insiders, remains anxious. He arrived at his office shortly after 8 and, as he often does, slipped off his shoes. The office, housed in an old brick building, reflects his personality with decor that favors landscape paintings, maps, old snowshoes, fishing poles, and books on brook trout, filmmaker Wes Anderson, and national park lodges.

For much of the next hour and a half, St. Clair, dressed in black jeans and a light-blue patterned button-down shirt, stays on his feet, circling the conference table to throw glances at the computer screens. Finally, at around 9:30, the White House website flashes a video from President Obama introducing the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. St. Clair shoots his hands up into the air, a measure of both his relief and awe that this moment had actually arrived. The others erupt into cheers. Yemaya gives her husband a teary hug.

Then the room quiets, and St. Clair picks up the phone. There are supporters to call; almost immediately the media requests begin flooding in, too. When one conversation or interview ends, a new phone is handed to St. Clair—Boston outlets, NPR, reporters from everywhere seeking a quote. The reprieve is over, and St. Clair, who is maybe the only person who could have resuscitated his mother’s idea, does what he’s been doing virtually nonstop for the past several years. He gets back to work.

An understated resilience defines Lucas St. Clair’s personality. Its roots can be traced to his early childhood. His parents, George St. Clair and Roxanne Quimby, both native East Coasters, arrived in Maine via San Francisco in 1974—another pair in a wave of young baby boomers seeking a simpler life in the woods of northern New England. They had $3,000 saved up, which they used to buy 30 acres in Guilford, a mill town 50 miles north of Bangor. They cleared the land with a bow saw and built a small saltbox home on a ridge overlooking a creek. It was a handmade life: no running water, no electricity. The property was alive with gardens and honeybees. Kerosene lanterns lit the home, while a dug well supplied the water. What little money Roxanne and George needed they earned through part-time work, she as a waitress and he as a radio deejay.

A young Lucas St. Clair with his twin sister, Hannah. Raised in rural Piscataquis County, both children felt at home in Maine’s great outdoors from an early age.
A young Lucas St. Clair with his twin sister, Hannah. Raised in rural Piscataquis County, both children felt at home in Maine’s great outdoors from an early age.
Photo Credit : courtesy of Lucas St. Clair

In June 1978, the couple welcomed their twins, Lucas and Hannah. As the children grew, the woods became their playground. They built forts, dammed the creek, and wandered the forest. Their father led them on treks around the property, pointing out the different plants and animals. Later, there were adventures up Mount Katahdin and fishing on Maine’s rivers.

“There were times when it was uncomfortable,” says Hannah. “We’d come home at night in winter and the house was freezing cold, but I think living that way helped us both become adaptable to different environments. There were no creature comforts. And the ability to have unstructured play and the freedom to explore made us both curious and interested in adventure and travel.”

It was a secluded life, but not a solitary one. And, as he would continue to do throughout his life, young Lucas enjoyed being around people.

“We’d go to these gatherings at the grange, where all these people were,” George says. “As soon as the car was parked, he’d open the door and zoom right into the room. He wanted to be where the action was.”

In 1983, George and Roxanne divorced. She found some land and eventually built a home in nearby Parkman; he got an apartment just minutes away. This new life brought them out of the deep woods but didn’t disconnect their children from the outdoors. Lucas and Hannah cross-country skied in the field near their mother’s house and rode their bikes deep into the summer night. On fishing trips with his father, Lucas learned how to read the waters and look for the cold, dark pools where the trout lurked. George, whom friends teased for cutting off his fly hooks so he wouldn’t hurt the fish, instilled in his son not just a love of nature but also a respect for it, a kind of tender appreciation of its beauty.

At age 10, the twins followed their father up Katahdin for the first time. “We got to the table lands and it was just socked in with fog. There were people coming down saying they didn’t see a thing from the top,” St. Clair says. “But we were like, We’ve made it this far, let’s go. And when we got to the peak, the wind was blowing and the mist and fog parted. These huge views of the valley came into focus, and I was blown away that we had climbed so high. Then I saw the sign with the mile markers to different places along the [Appalachian Trail]. I was just floored that anyone could walk that far. From that moment, I knew I wanted to do the AT.” And nearly a decade later, as his high school classmates prepared for college, he would do exactly that.

School wasn’t always easy for the young St. Clair. Struggling to find his footing in the classroom, he gravitated toward hands-on activities such as painting and blacksmithing. During his sophomore year in high school, he grew seven inches and gained 60 pounds. “It was awful,” he recalls. “It was the worst year. I felt like my body abandoned me. Sorry, buddy, I’m doing my own thing this year.” The wilderness became his outlet, a place that gave him confidence.

“My junior year at Gould [Academy, in Bethel, Maine], we went on an eight-day winter camping trip,” he says. “There were students who were really anxious about it. It wasn’t anything they’d done before. And for the first time I was like, I know this stuff—I can teach others about it. It dawned on me that I did have a skill set. That who I was was not defined by the classroom.”

After high school and his AT hike, St. Clair traveled to Patagonia and then backpacked around Europe. He remained in London that fall to attend culinary school and eventually trained to be a pastry chef. Back in the U.S., he worked in restaurants in New York City before, at age 21, returning to Maine and opening a restaurant in Winter Harbor with a girlfriend. The business was a modest success, but the experience of running it wasn’t.

“Were I to do it all over again, I would have gone to refrigerator repair school, because what I mainly found myself doing was wrenching on compressors and trying to get plumbing working,” St. Clair says. “It was all about fixing stuff.”

In 2005, with the restaurant and the girlfriend behind him, St. Clair rode his motorcycle across the country. He wound up settling in Seattle, where he reconnected with Yemaya, whom he’d met during his postgrad year in South America. In this new life, St. Clair worked as a fishing guide, served as a sommelier for a group of restaurants, and sometimes modeled for the clothing company Eddie Bauer. By early 2011 he was married and a new father, enjoying a comfortable city existence. Yet the dream of returning to Maine was never far. Neither was a familiar restlessness that he had felt at different periods in his life.

And then he got a call from his mother.

When Roxanne Quimby moved to Maine, the state’s northern region was in transition. In 1976 the final log drive tumbled down the Kennebec River; a decade later, Great Northern Paper had its first large-scale layoffs. A way of life—one that had earned Millinocket the nickname “Magic City” for the speed at which it had been built a century before—unraveled. By 2014 the population of Millinocket had plunged by nearly 42 percent and a fifth of all working-age residents were jobless. Houses here could be had for less than $30,000.

As the forest products industry stumbled, though, Quimby wound up on a path to prosperity. In 1984 she met Burt Shavitz, who was selling his own honey from a truck on the side of the road. She offered to help and eventually began making boot and furniture polish from the excess beeswax, processing the stuff, with the twins’ help, on a wood cookstove. Later she hit upon a recipe for lip balm, and after that had started to sell, she converted a defunct schoolhouse in Guilford into a manufacturing center for the small company. By the late 1990s, Burt’s Bees had a new home base in North Carolina and a sales volume that made Quimby worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Her foray into land preservation came as a result of her son’s Appalachian Trail hike. Upon his return, St. Clair had remarked to her that the final stretch of the trail in northern Maine, the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, hadn’t felt like much of a wilderness at all—what with the sound of cars buzzing along nearby roads and the clanging of neighboring logging operations. Motivated to help create more of a buffer along the trail, Quimby bought 40,000 acres near Monson. By 2007 she had spent $39 million to purchase a total of 80,000 acres of wilderness and was hosting public meetings on the idea of creating a national park.

“I feel like my reason for being put on this earth will have been fulfilled, because this will live on after me,” Quimby told this magazine in 2008. “A park is a demonstration that there is something in America that I can love. It’s very democratic: A Mexican immigrant or a millionaire, for 10 bucks they both get the same experience.”

But some of the qualities that had made Quimby such a successful businesswoman would hurt her push to sell the park idea. She was headstrong and uncompromising, according to critics, and she had little appetite for the politicking that a project like this required.

“She didn’t couch a lot of things in the way people wanted to hear,” says Nick Sambides, a longtime Bangor Daily News reporter. “She had no real structure set up…. She organized it like she was organizing a flower festival. She had a very grass-roots, low-key, hey-wouldn’t-this-be-wonderful approach. She thought everybody would line up behind it and that it wasn’t a terribly political thing—when it’s nothing but politics.”

Quimby also represented a stark departure from the past in a region where what has come before is revered in almost a religious sense. She was a woman, and more significantly a rich woman who packed a strength of will that had been imparted by her own mother, who’d escaped Lenin’s Russia as a young girl. To Quimby, embracing the woods, her woods, meant reimagining what might come next, even if that would upend generational traditions. On her newly acquired land she banned snowmobiling and hunting. She evicted people from camps they built on property they’d leased from the mills, then she had the cabins burned to return the land to wilderness.

The battle over Quimby’s park, then, was about more than just the land. It was a battle over the future—who should decide it, and perhaps even what those deciders should look like.

It takes an act of Congress to create a national park. By the late 2000s, after years of meetings and publicity, Quimby hadn’t gained the backing of Maine’s congressional delegation. “Ban Roxanne” signs were in storefronts and on truck bumpers and front lawns throughout the Millinocket region. Then, in a fateful 2011 Forbes interview, Quimby offered her unfiltered thoughts on her adopted state.

“We have the most aged population in the country,” she said. “I believe we have one of the highest adult obesity rates in New England. We have … oxycontin abuse … [and] Maine is the largest net receiver of federal funds, even though we supposedly hate the feds … it’s a welfare state.”

Cue the backlash. “Roxanne Quimby Calls Maine a Welfare State” declared the front page of the Bangor Daily News. To many unemployed Mainers, her words overshadowed the millions of dollars that her Quimby Family Foundation had donated to nonprofits across the state. And it became apparent that if Quimby’s national park was going to happen, she could no longer be the person to lead the fight.

At the time, St. Clair was still living out west. “ I just thought [the Forbes article] was another story, but it didn’t go away, and people kept talking about it,” he says. “Look, I’m used to my mom saying exactly what she thinks. And often she’s right. She’s incredibly intuitive and super-bright, so I was like, Those are the problems with where I grew up. Wouldn’t it be great to have a national park and bring new jobs and opportunities? But that’s not at all how it played out in the press.

“I hear a lot of people talk about her legacy and the fact that she wants this as part of her legacy,” he continues. “She lives this lifestyle that’s so close to the land and is really introverted. She doesn’t think about her legacy. She thinks about the trees and the rivers and the moose. Those are things that really move her. If she could have done this anonymously, she would have.”

Though its vistas may be less dramatic than those of national parks out west, Katahdin Woods and Waters is impressive for being an uninterrupted stretch of wilderness in the heavily land-fractured eastern U.S.
Though its vistas may be less dramatic than those of national parks out west, Katahdin Woods and Waters is impressive for being an uninterrupted stretch of wilderness in the heavily land-fractured eastern U.S.
Photo Credit : Little Outdoor Giants

The story of the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters is not a new one. The hurdles and struggles, the fears about government intrusion, are threaded through the early histories of national parks such as Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, and Kenai Fjords. Former Maine governor Percival Baxter fought similar battles to create the 200,000-acre-plus Baxter State Park, a property just west of the Quimby land that includes Mount Katahdin and is New England’s largest wilderness area. 

It’s also a story that finds a striking parallel in the founding of Maine’s Acadia National Park more than a century ago. George Dorr, heir to a banking and textile fortune, had grown alarmed over the rapid development of Mount Desert Island, and in 1901 he spearheaded the creation of a trust that would acquire land to restrain further construction and maintain public access to the island’s coastline. A decade later he fended off an attempt by Maine legislators to disband the trust; then he turned to the federal government for protection in the form of a national park designation.

Over the next several years Dorr traveled frequently between D.C. and Maine. At a time when the National Park Service did not yet exist and when all the national parks lay west of the Mississippi, Dorr’s vision sounded preposterous. Maybe even impossible.

“A congressman asked Dorr why would anyone want to give something to the federal government,” says Ronald Epp, author of Creating Acadia National Park, a biography of Dorr. “People don’t do that who are sane, he was told. He was thought to be naive for thinking the federal government was in the business of accepting public philanthropy. All these parks west of Mississippi were made from lands the federal government already owned. Now we had citizens coming forward saying, ‘Here, this is for free. You just have to take care of it and protect it in perpetuity.’ It sounded insane. I guess it still sounds like that to people today.”

Dorr finally realized his dream, as Acadia was named a national monument in 1916 and a national park three years later. However, it did not come without a price. Dorr spent down his family fortune—by the end of his life, friends were paying his mortgage—and drove himself to exhaustion.

The threat of rain hangs overhead as St. Clair pilots his SUV along a series of gravel roads and then grassy ones that grow increasingly worse. It’s late June, two months before this land will be designated a national monument, and St. Clair is attacking the ever-dicier route with a gleeful aggression. “The one thing I won’t be able to do when this becomes a national park is blindly take the turns,” he says with a laugh. In the back, a cooler of beer rattles around. “That may be off the list, too,” he adds.

Stopping on an old logging road, he unfolds his six-foot-five frame from the car and throws his arms into the air for a stretch. Then he points to a band of forest, from which are heard the faint sounds of the Wassataquoik Stream. “We’re going that way,” he says. He looks up at the sky. “It’s going to pour.” Then, as he is prone to do when happy, St. Clair, who begins to gather his fishing equipment, starts to sing. “It’s going to rain, rain, rain, rain.”

Several minutes later St. Clair is standing on the riverbank. The water churns gently past, curling around chunks of granite that slid off the back of Mount Katahdin during the last ice age. This area, Orin Falls, is a sacred spot for St. Clair—maybe his favorite on the land. It’s where he brings first-time visitors who want a sense of what the park is all about. It’s remote even by northern-Maine standards, but it’s accessible, with a gorgeous river framed by boulders and tall pines. This same waterway is the one that a skinny Harvard student named Teddy Roosevelt crossed more than a century ago when he made his first ascent of Katahdin.

“I love fishing this stream because it’s so small you can walk all over,” St. Clair says. “It looks like a powerful force was involved in making this at one point. It’s intimate and still feels wild. And the fish here are really pretty. If you can catch them.” He moves with ease into the water. In part, that’s his natural way of navigating the world. He projects a comfort with himself, and that, combined with his ability to make those around him laugh, softens the sheer physical advantage he has over most people. He is tall but not imposing.

On this day St. Clair is quiet and contemplative. He makes his way along the uneven riverbed with the kind of assurance that comes from knowing an area so intimately. The water is warm and the trout are hard to find. So St. Clair keeps moving, picking his spots to fish as he ventures upstream.

St. Clair at Orin Falls on the Wassataquoik Stream, one of his favorite spots to visit when he’s on the park land.
St. Clair at Orin Falls on the Wassataquoik Stream, one of his favorite spots to visit when he’s on the park land.
Photo Credit : Little Outdoor Giants

Orin Falls is a snapshot of what Katahdin Woods and Waters offers. This is not a land of eye-popping visuals like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. Sure, there are some big views of the surrounding valleys and a dead-on shot of the east side of Katahdin, but its appeal and, some have argued, its importance is that it is an uninterrupted stretch of wilderness, spanning thousands of acres of trees and rivers. In the heavily populated, heavily land-fractured eastern United States, that is no small thing.

When St. Clair moved with his wife and young daughter to Maine in early 2012, he set out to change the debate about the proposed park so that it was less a referendum on his mother and more a discussion about the land. He put a bed in the back of his Volkswagen van and canvassed northern Maine. He searched through Facebook to see what people were saying about the proposal, then set up meetings with the commentators for face-to-face talks. On the weekends, he sat behind a card table at the local transfer station to answer questions and hand out information sheets. He made it a morning ritual to visit a former Buick dealership in downtown Millinocket where a group of retired mill workers gather regularly to drink coffee and talk about the old days.

St. Clair’s ability to connect with others helped set him apart, says Dan O’Leary, retired director of the Portland Museum of Art and former CEO of Quimby’s three philanthropic organizations, including Elliotsville Plantation. “I was a museum director for many years, and my job was to work with people, often powerful and wealthy, to get them to work as a team,” O’Leary says. “But I have 25 percent of the skills that Lucas has in that way. I’ve never known a person who is better at channeling and moving the feelings and the beliefs of people forward.”

There were more formal meetings, too, in which St. Clair weathered personal attacks from park opponents who savaged the project and his mother. “He was treated as miserably as anyone I’ve seen in public life, outside of getting arrested for a heinous crime,” says Sambides, the Bangor Daily News reporter. “They didn’t want him there. They called him a liar to his face. But he’d deflect with humor and earnestness and patience. A lot of patience.”

It was a reset in both tone and style. It didn’t hurt that St. Clair looked like and had many of the same interests as the people he was trying to win over. And where he could, St. Clair moved away from the project’s earlier iteration. He hired a high-end consulting firm out of Montana to help him navigate Washington, D.C. He reopened a portion of the land to hunting and snowmobiling. Then, in late 2015, he made his biggest pivot: choosing to pursue national monument designation, which requires only a declaration from the president, rather than full national park status.

“Roxanne is a purist—she didn’t want snowmobiles, she didn’t want hunting,” says an associate familiar with the project. “She liked the idea of helping the economy, but she wasn’t willing to compromise on any of her very pure motives on protecting the environment. Lucas is more pragmatic. Lucas was willing to sit down with snowmobilers, the off-terrain folks, and hunters. It was Lucas who worked out the plan to allow hunting east of the East Branch, and it’s because of Lucas that the snowmobile trail heading out of Millinocket found a way to go through their property.”

There’s a story that St. Clair likes to tell from his childhood, a story that defines something about him. When he was 6 or 7, a young family moved next door to his father’s place in Dover-Foxcroft. Every day his new neighbors would go on a bike ride, and St. Clair, who desperately wanted to make friends, would trail after them.

“Day after day I did this, and eventually they were like, Do you want to come with us?” St. Clair says. “Oh, I thought you’d never ask—that’s definitely my personality. I’ll just keep showing up. Oh yeah, Lucas is here again. With something like the park, that’s what it’s taken. There are some folks who I doubt will ever support this, but it’s at least important we get to know each other.”

The park’s opponents include Governor Paul LePage, a man who has a seeming allergic reaction to anything with even a whiff of federal government control. LePage spent his early career working in the forest products industry and has been one of the monument’s most outspoken critics. He’s questioned the land’s visitor appeal, deriding it as “the mosquito area,” and, following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, he lobbied for a reversal of the monument designation.

About an hour after St. Clair leaves Orin Falls, he comes face-to-face with what he believes is a product of the governor’s opposition. Within the Quimby land is a 1,200-acre parcel owned by the state; access to it includes a right-of-way over the future monument property. The previous winter, the state Bureau of Public Lands set about reconstructing the road in order to log the parcel. The project has included helicoptering in a temporary steel bridge, cutting back trees, and digging gullies. Alongside stretches of the gravel pathway are collections of concrete abutments and Jersey barriers. At the road’s gate, St. Clair steps out into the rain to take a look at what’s ahead. “It was this tiny, snaking trail,” he says. “Now it’s just wide and muddy. They’ve got a legal right to do it, but it’s just upsetting to see.

“It’s going to cost a lot to get up there,” he adds, his voice sounding tight and annoyed. “And they’re doing it at the total bottom of the market. Just from a business perspective, it’s dumb.”

He pauses for a moment. “It’s just really disappointing,” he says, in a near-whisper to himself.

With the gates pushed open, St. Clair gets back into the car and drives on. He’s quiet as he scans the scene. Ahead is the spike of South Turner Mountain and a mix of pine, spruce, and hardwoods that the state is targeting. After several miles, the road concludes at a scabby turnaround just south of where the cutting will begin.

“Oh, what a bummer,” says St. Clair, driving back. “This was such an incredible moose and bear habitat. Our governor has felt like a victim and felt powerless in this. This is his way of saying, ‘Don’t forget about me.’”

Three months after the monument’s declaration, a still-exhausted St. Clair and his wife, Yemaya, loaded up an RV in the driveway of their Portland home, and with their two children, Ella, 5, and Whalen, 2, they set out on a four-week journey down and back up the East Coast. They would cover nearly 4,200 miles, visiting friends and national parks along the way, and for the first time since they’d arrived in Maine, they would spend a prolonged stretch alone as a family. St. Clair welcomed the chance to travel, to be with his wife and kids, and to start thinking about an important question he has to answer.

What’s next?

It comes up frequently for him. From others. From himself, too. The truth is, he has anxiety—mild, maybe, but it’s there just the same. He wonders if bringing the monument across the finish line will be the biggest thing he’ll ever do with his life.

“It’s been hard, complex work, and what I’m most nervous about is that I won’t have a hard, complex problem to work on now,” St. Clair says. “The anxiety I feel more than anything is waking up in the morning and wondering what I’m supposed to do.”

He’s reminded a bit of what it was like after he finished hiking the Appalachian Trail. For the first two weeks, he slept in his tent in his mother’s backyard. Even after such an intense, grueling journey, he wasn’t ready to let it end. He’d grown accustomed to the challenge, and he nearly turned around and hiked back to Georgia.

“Every day I put on my hiking boots, put on my backpack, and hiked,” he says. “I’d do the same thing day in and day out. And then I finished, and the next day I was like, What am I supposed to do now? I remember feeling really lost. There’s a part of me that wonders if I might feel that way again because there’s been an intensity to [the park process]. I get up super-early; I drive long distances or fly to Washington. It’s fast and furious, with a lot of meetings. And if I don’t have that stuff anymore, will I feel like something is missing?”

What’s clear is that this effort has allowed St. Clair to find his voice and stick with something in a way he hadn’t done before. “The work was so diverse,” he says. “I wasn’t just doing the same thing over and over again. That’s why I stopped cooking—you’re basically cooking the same four dishes, and that’s what your day is like. This was the first project in my life where I said, I’m going to devote everything to it to see how far I can get with it. I didn’t have that kind of drive with anything else in my life.”

He thinks about staying involved in land conservation work. Maine’s economy and the issues around its rural poverty intrigue him. Even before the national monument declaration came through, speculation swirled that St. Clair’s future lay in politics. He never ruled it out, and in early October, at the Appalachian Trail Café in Millinocket, he announced his candidacy for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Running as a Democrat, St. Clair faces a crowded primary, the winner of which will face the incumbent, Republican Bruce Poliquin, in November 2018.

It could be a long shot. It may be that St. Clair is just testing the waters. Or it might be the first step in a political career that will see St. Clair knocking on the door of other offices.

Still, regardless of what happens this year, the work on behalf of the Katahdin land continues. In April, President Trump ordered a review of all national monuments created since 1996, especially those named by President Obama. That list, of course, included Katahdin Woods and Waters. In May, St. Clair testified before the U.S. Senate on the value of the monument. The following month, he returned north to welcome Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for a tour of the land. Zinke was impressed and even suggested that perhaps it deserved to become a national park. “It was an amazing trip,” St. Clair says.

On August 24, 2017, a year to the day that Katahdin Woods and Waters was created, Zinke—spurred no doubt by the area’s increasing property values, the bubbling up of new businesses, and the growing acceptance of the park by former opponents—declared that the land would remain a part of the National Park Service.

For St. Clair, the final hurdle in a near-two-decade-long quest has finally been cleared. As he plots his future, he will keep visiting the Katahdin region. He’ll fish Orin Falls, maybe follow a trail up the east side of Katahdin he’s always wanted to try, and ski the trails that the Park Service continues to blaze throughout the property. Just another visitor to the national park property he brought into existence.