by the Associated Press
AUGUSTA — Seated before a bust of the original donor of Maine’s foremost wilderness preserve, Gov. John Baldacci on Monday signed a bill to authorize a land deal expanding Baxter State Park. The deal, which follows three years of planning and more than 100 hours of deliberations by a legislative committee, is designed to attach about 4,000 acres surrounding Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park. Another 2,000 acres, where hunting and snowmobiling will be allowed, will be managed by the Maine Department of Conservation.
The wilderness park contains Mount Katahdin, which is Maine’s highest peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
“Katahdin Lake will be one of Baxter State Park’s most visited spots,” Baldacci predicted as he sat in the shadow of the State House Hall of Flags monument to Gov. Percival Baxter.
Baxter served as the state’s chief executive from 1921 to 1924 and bought land for the park over a 30-year period, donating it to the state from the 1930s to the 1960s in 28 parcels.
The Katahdin Lake parcel borders seven miles of the eastern boundary of the park. The $14 million Katahdin Lake purchase involves no public money, but legislation was needed because it involves the transfer of state-managed lots to the logging company that’s selling the Katahdin Lake land.
The bill was the subject of lengthy negotiations among landowners, wilderness advocates, hunters, snowmobilers and state officials.
Officials said the transaction also could lead to conservation of 8,000 acres east of Katahdin Lake, including more than six miles of frontage on the west bank of Wassataquoik Stream and Barnard Mountain.
“This new law enables the Katahdin Lake project, a century-old conservation priority, to move forward with a remarkably strong endorsement from the Maine Legislature,” said Sam Hodder of the Trust for Public Land, which has served as a partner with the state.
“Now the hard work of raising the necessary $11.5 million in private funds is what stands between us and the fulfillment of Governor Baxter’s dream. With all of the awareness and support generated by the legislative process, I am confident that the people of Maine will rise to the challenge and help us to meet our goal,” Hodder said.