Abandoned backpack on trail almost results in Baxter search

Posted May 07, 2009, at 3:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:20 p.m.

BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine — A backpack found at Baxter State Park almost caused a large-scale search on Thursday for a Pennsylvania hiker whose tale of what happened has spurred an investigation, a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife official said.

John Meharg, 30, of Reading, Pa., was found to be safe at home after Baxter State Park Ranger Ben Woodard found a backpack Thursday morning on the Appalachian Trail west of Abol Bridge, where Meharg apparently left it, department spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said.

Woodard’s discovery, and a report Monday from the Brewer Police Department that a Brewer resident saw the backpack on the trail, raised concerns that the pack’s owner was missing, maybe even in danger, Turcotte said.

Woodard snapped some pictures of the backpack and called the Maine Warden Service because the situation appeared suspicious and the pack appeared to have been there for several days.

With warden service search and rescue personnel, volunteer groups and dog teams on standby for a search, wardens and Baxter State Park workers started investigating who owned the backpack and pulled Meharg’s name from a registration sheet at Togue Pond Gates.

Warden investigator Bill Livezey reached Meharg by telephone at his home, and the hiker denied leaving the backpack, according to Turcotte. With searchers headed to the area to await instructions, another hiker, who saw Meharg, was interviewed. After that, Meharg was spoken to again and reluctantly admitted that the back-pack was his, according to Turcotte.

Meharg told investigators that he had planned on starting at the top of Mount Katahdin and heading south on the Appalachian Trail. Weather conditions denied him the summit, and he eventually got on the trail near the Penobscot River’s West Branch, he said.

Meharg then fell or jumped into the water. Having hurt himself, he headed to a road for help without his backpack, and somehow arrived at Millinocket Regional Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. Meharg said he took a taxi to Bangor, rented a vehicle and went home, according to Turcotte.

Investigators will be doing a follow-up interview with Meharg to ensure that everything is OK, Turcotte said.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

794-8215

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