It took longer and required much more heartache than necessary. But on Friday, all of the hard work paid off: Katahdin Lake and thousands of acres of encompassing forest were purchased from a Maine timber company and deeded to Baxter State Park.
The announcement came after a $14 million fundraising campaign that generated donations from across the country.
But the deal was complicated by a divisive political fight that turned this key piece of Gov. Percival Baxter’s vision for his incredible park into a bone in a special interest fight.
This spring, a hunting lobby and a snowmobile group objected to the proposed purchase because the Baxter Authority said it intended to manage the lands as a preserve, as Baxter originally intended. The groups wailed loud and long about how their traditions were being disrespected.
So it’s instructive to note that 57 percent of the private donations raised by Trust for Public Land came from fulltime, year-round residents of the state. They understood that the opportunity to protect the lake, with its stunning views, might not come again.
The take-home lesson here is not that one set of views about how to enjoy Maine’s incomparable natural beauty won out over another.
What all Mainers need to understand is that the vast private holdings that make up the North Woods are increasingly vulnerable to economic forces that value them more for their worth on the real estate market than as an irreplaceable part of our state’s cultural and economic fabric.
Other remarkable lands will hit the auction block in coming years.
Will Mainers be able to ensure that future generations enjoy them too?