By Steve Cartwright
The beauty of Baxter State Park takes many forms, and it affects us in many ways. Baxter can be a jolly mix of hikers and campers, a place of friendship and reunion. Or it can be a place of solitude, a place where wildlife walks, a place of views that are breathtaking — literally if you’ve been climbing hard — and a place where nature is in charge, not us.
It can be a place to reflect, to know ourselves.
I’ve been to this park in balmy August when I could sunbathe on the summit. I’ve been there in the dead of winter when it was so far below zero I didn’t even want to know. I’ve camped in Baxter Park in the spring and fall since boyhood. My children have grown up knowing this place as I did, repeating those experiences that shaped my love for this place. This passion for Baxter Park must hold true for many thousands of Mainers who appreciate that it will always be there for them.
The peace and beauty of Baxter Park comes from many things, among them the absence of air, water, land and noise pollution. There is also the absence of stress so common in our high-tech, fast-paced lives. Baxter isn’t the wilderness it was 400 years ago, but it’s about as close as you can come to it and still be a half-day’s drive from Portland. Experiencing Baxter Park’s beauty means getting out of and away from motor vehicles. It means communing with the unparalleled natural splendor of Mount Katahdin and its spectacular setting. Nature can teach us about living in step with our resources and one another. It can nourish the spirit like a drink from a mountain stream.
When I sit down on a rock, tired and sweaty, and gaze around me, it is the feeling of being in a cathedral. The place is, after all, sacred to the Native Americans who named it. It is a special place for many of us, so special that we must continue to protect it and maintain it as a sanctuary, just as Gov. Percival P. Baxter intended.
Now comes the Katahdin Lake campaign. It’s a way to enhance and protect the extraordinary legacy of Gov. Baxter, that Portland native of great vision and personal wealth who created Baxter State Park after the Maine Legislature turned him down. Baxter wanted very much to preserve Katahdin Lake and its shores as part of the park, but he was unable to clinch a deal on the property.
Today, such a deal is imminent. The nonprofit Trust for Public Land is doing the heavy lifting of raising money. All the Legislature has to do is lift their hands and vote for the land swap that will enable the acquisition of the 6,000-acre Katahdin Lake parcel. Remarkably, the lake property remains mostly undeveloped, other than a long-established sporting camp owned by environmentalist Charles Fitzgerald.
The campaign for Katahdin Lake is a joint venture between the trust, the Department of Conservation and the Baxter State Park Authority. Ultimately, it’s a joint venture with the people of Maine. This land can be our land, now and forever.
Twenty-five years ago, my wife Kathy and I almost got married atop Mount Katahdin, but instead opted for a coastal field where more guests could join us. Now comes the marriage of Baxter Park and Katahdin Lake. It is truly something to celebrate in our great state, and it’s a time for Mainers to renew their vows to maintain this legacy of unspoiled land exactly as Baxter wanted it, forever wild.
Steve Cartwright is a writer living in Waldoboro. He is a board member of Maine-based Friends of Baxter State Park, a group that supports the Katahdin Lake campaign.