By John Richardson, staff writer
An effort to fulfill Gov. Percival Baxter’s vision and add Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park is nearing completion as supporters close in on their $14 million fundraising goal.
Backers still have to raise about $1.8 million by Dec. 15, the deadline for closing the historic deal, but said they are confident based on the strong response of big and small donors.
“There are gifts that are coming in every day,” said Sam Hodder, a leader in the Trust for Public Lands effort. “I don’t have any doubts that the people are going to step forward and help make this happen.”>/p>
The final fundraising push follows years of negotiations and a divisive debate in the Maine Legislature about public uses of the land. The political debate ultimately ended in a compromise and widespread support for the deal, but it disrupted fundraising efforts for several weeks and added to concerns about whether that much money could be raised that fast.
The effort to raise $14 million in 11 months was by far the most aggressive private fundraising campaign conducted by the Trust for Public Land, Hodder said. What made it possible was a deep affinity for the state’s wilderness park, which had never before asked for private support, he said.
“Every time you open an envelope from people sending their support there is a letter about how important the park has been to them,” Hodder said.
The $14 million deal involves a complex land swap that must take place by the end of next week under the current deadline set by the private owner of the land. “They’ve made it very clear this is our deadline,” Hodder said.
If successful, the trust would use $13 million to buy private and state-owned timberlands, and then would swap those lands for 6,015 privately owned acres around Katahdin Lake. Most of that land, 4,040 acres directly around the lake, would be added to Baxter State Park. The remaining 1,975 acres would become state-owned land open to such uses as hunting and snowmobiling.
The other $1 million would pay the costs of completing the project, according to the organizers.
Although there has been some opposition to giving up other state-owned forest lands, the state Department of Conservation has been a primary supporter of the deal because of the opportunity to protect the lake and expand the park.
More than 800 donors have contributed $11.2 million to the campaign so far, both from inside Maine and from outside the state, Hodder said. The Elma B. Sewall Foundation pledged a $1 million donation once the campaign reaches the $13 million mark. That left a gap of about $1.8 million as of Monday.
Hodder and others said they are confident because there are a number of large donors who have been monitoring the project and communicating with organizers.
“There are a lot of folks that have been participating in the project and watching from a distance and waiting until they knew we were going to get there,” he said. “Now is the chance to step forward and make it happen.”>/p>
Irvin “Buzz” Caverly, the retired 24-year director of Baxter State Park, has helped explain to potential donors how Katahdin Lake is the final missing piece of Percival Baxter’s original vision for the park he gave to the state. Caverly also has been taking potential donors to see the view of Mount Katahdin from the lake.
“I made 22 trips this year so far,” Caverly said. “When they get there, they step out of the woods onto the beach and look at the mountain, and everyone one of them says, ‘Wow.'”>/p>
Caverly said he knew people would give generously, and he also is sure the effort will succeed. Percival Baxter, who hired him to work at the park, always said the people of Maine would care for the park, Caverly said.
“I’ve had confidence from the very start,” he said.