By Buzz Caverly
Bangor Daily News op-ed
After attending a hearing on LD 2015, I came away feeling that there was a lack of understanding regarding Gov. Percival P. Baxter’s firm position in reference to hunting, trapping and multiple uses on lands designated as Game Preserve.
I believe it is extremely important, during these discussions regarding the purchase of 6,000-plus acres around Katahdin Lake, that further clarity be offered as these lands are being considered to become part of Baxter State Park.
I am the last person to manage the park who communicated with Gov. Baxter about his plans between 1960 and 1968.
In the early years, while on foot patrol in a remote area of the parks east boundary, not far from the Katahdin Lake township, I found a large red and white metal sign mostly covered with duff on the ground.
When exposed, large bold print read KATAHDIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, as this was the name of the park in the early days.
In the 1940s, when Gov. Baxter was negotiating for lands in T6-R9 and T6-R10, more commonly described today as the Scientific Forest Management Area, it was his intent that these lands be game preserve.
In the 1960s during my discussion with Arthur Augustine, owner of the Shin Pond House, he related to me his recollections of earlier times when Gov. Baxter was touring the park he would frequently spend a night at his hotel. And it was not uncommon for Baxter to come to the kitchen early in the morning for discussions of mutual interest. Baxter discussed his plans for the lands north of Trout Brook and Wadleigh Brook.
It was during these discussions that Art conveyed local concerns that guide services, sporting camps and commercial businesses would be negatively impacted by Game Preserve status. He argued the area was far removed from Katahdin he would be pleased if Gov. Baxter would reconsider his position in the interest of local economics. Gov. Baxter returned to Portland, did in fact consider those impacts of the times, and requested exemption of Sanctuary status for those lands.
In the 1960s, at the age of 84, Baxter was desperate to purchase the lands in T2-R9 in order to add 7,700-plus acres to his park and achieving his 200,000-acre goal. Local sportsman persuaded the Great Northern Paper Co. not to sell and used similar arguments and threats articulated by George Smith at last month’s hearing.
The Paper Company was also reluctant to give up wood products without a provision for cutting rights.
Gov. Baxter was old, tired and he wanted these lands to complete his life’s dream. Time was running out and I remember Helon Taylor, park supervisor and a close friend of Gov. Baxter’s, saying to me, “He is a grand old gentleman. He does not have the energy to fight. They are holding a gun to his head on this issue. He either concedes or his park will remain at the present size of 193,054 acres.”
Gov. Baxter eventually conceded to allowing hunting and trapping to complete the deal.
The Baxter Park Authority decision to purchase GP lands in 1993 and West Branch lands in 1998 were good decisions. However, their decision to allow hunting by a 2 to 1 vote on the Bowater purchase, which was naturally boundaried by the West Branch of the Penobscot River to the Baxter Game Preserve line, I believe was inappropriate and influenced by political and special interest pressures.
It’s interesting to note that since Gov. Baxter’s death in 1969 the authority has purchased the Ira Myrick lot at Mount Chase, 200 acres; the Austin Carry lot in Harpswell, 200 acres; the Togue Pond deed of 1,047 acres; and the Bowater West Branch lands in excess of 2,000 acres. None of these purchases has been designated as Baxter wished … sanctuary lands.
If this fifth addition is to be added, his wishes should prevail.
Buzz Caverly is the retired director of Baxter State Park. He lives in Corinth.