Katahdin Lake, which Gov. Percival Baxter long wanted to include in the park he created, is now part of Baxter State Park. This is great news, but as important as the addition to the park, is the discussion about land use and access that the deal fostered. That discussion should not only continue but be broadened to include serious consideration of how relatively pristine places like Katahdin Lake, as well as snowmobile trails and hunting camps, can be used to draw more people to the area around Millinocket.
Earlier this year, the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine convinced some to oppose the deal because the land around the scenic lake would be off-limits to hunters if it became part of Baxter State Park. A compromise was reached, with the southern 4,000 acres around the lake going to Baxter and 2,000 acres in the north to be managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands for hunting and other recreational uses. This arrangement was approved by the Legislature this spring.
Last Friday, state officials announced that the necessary $14 million had been raised — $2 million of it in just the last two weeks — to complete the deal. Over half the money came from donors who live full time in Maine, a strong endorsement of the project from the state’s residents.
Before the deal was completed, sportsmen and Millinocket-area residents became further concerned when conservationist Roxanne Quimby purchased 25,000 acres south of the Katahdin Lake parcel. This effectively blocked public access to the lake, so the governor directed the Department of Conservation to build a short road across a public reserved land unit to connect with private logging roads allowing the public to get to 2,000-acre hunting grounds without crossing Ms. Quimby’s land.
Ms. Quimby met with local residents and sportsmen and reasserted that the land would be open to them until Sept. 2007. She also agreed to continue talking to them about a possible land swap that would improve access for snowmobiles, ATVs and others in the area.
This prompted Millinocket Town Councilor Wallace Paul to recommend that the council hold workshops with sportsmen, landowners, residents, the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce and officials from East Millinocket, Medway and other towns to develop a comprehensive approach to land-use issues. This is overdue and fits well with an earlier council resolution that town representatives be included in any future state discussions for proposed land sales, swaps and conservation easements around Baxter or the Katahdin region.
At the same time, sportsmen must more actively encourage Republican lawmakers to support a large bond issue for land acquisition or they should launch a private fundraising campaign like that for the Katahdin Lake purchase.
The Trust for Public Land, which purchased the Katahdin Lake parcel and gave it to the state, has an option to buy 8,000 acres next to Ms. Quimby’s land. This land could be used for roads and trails to access the area near Katahdin Lake or, perhaps better, to initiate a swap with Ms. Quimby that could substantially increase the amount of land in the area for hunting and motorized recreation. Neither is a possibility if the state doesn’t own it.
It can’t own it if TPL doesn’t come up with the money to buy it.