The Baxter State Park Authority on Monday voted to accept a conservation easement on a historic 43-acre lot that includes 500 feet of shore frontage on Katahdin Lake.
The easement was granted by the James Sewall family, which offered an unconditional gift of conservation rights on the parcel.
More than 4,500 acres surrounding Katahdin Lake was given to Baxter State Park in 2006, but there was a significant gap in that gift: 200 acres were privately owned by two families and were not included.
The 43-acre Sewall parcel originally was part of the roughly 200-acre “Keep Lot North.” The Sewall tract, along with an adjacent 150 acres owned by the Huber family, were not part of the 2006 gift.
Those two pieces of land were “in-holding” lands, which were surrounded by land owned and managed by Baxter State Park.
The Huber land was donated to the park in 2012; the Sewall parcel remains privately owned but will be managed according to the conservation easement.
“In this case the grantors [the Sewall family] is agreeing not to develop the property, not to apply a commercial business or industrial operation into perpetuity,” said Jensen Bissell, director of Baxter State Park. The grantors are “basically agreeing to not change it from the way it is in any substantial way.”
Bissell said the entire parcel of land — including the 150 acres given to the park in 2012 — had historic significance.
“It’s the best 200 acres on Katahdin Lake,” Bissell said.
The parcel included in the easement sits on the southeast corner of Katahdin Lake, just north of the Katahdin Brook outlet.
Bissell said that in 1860, the entire 200 acres was given to the Rev. Marcus Keep of Patten as a reward for his years of work planning and building trails from Katahdin Lake to Mount Katahdin.
“He worked to publicize and physically cut trails from the Hunt Farm [about 6 miles from the present Sewall parcel], which was the best place to embark on a trip to Katahdin in the 1840s,” Bissell said. “When he got older and his trail-breaking days were done, [Keep] asked the Legislature for some land to recognize his work, and they gave it to him.”
Today, the visitors to Baxter State Park can access Katahdin Lake by hiking the 2-mile Katahdin Lake Trail, which starts at Avalanche Field off the park’s Roaring Brook Road. The trail leads to the sandy south shore of the lake, where visitors can camp at a park lean-to or the historic Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.
Established in 1885 by the Cushman family, Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps used to serve as a base camp for hunters seeking big game. Today, the camps are used by recreationists, photographers and painters seeking to capture spectacular views of Katahdin from the lakeshore.
The rustic complex includes seven cabins for visitors and a main building where meals are served. The buildings are owned by Charles Fitzgerald and operated by Holly and Bryce Hamilton on a 25-year lease (17 years remaining) with the Baxter State Park Authority.
While the Katahdin Lake Trail ends at the south shore of Katahdin Lake, it’s connected to a network of other trails that park visitors can explore. Martin Ponds Trail leads 2 miles west to a lean-to at Martin Ponds. From there, hikers can take North Katahdin Lake Trail, which leads to the north shore of Katahdin Lake in 1.8 miles. And from there, hikers can head even farther north on the 3.4-mile Twin Ponds Trail. The network dead-ends at the pristine Twin Ponds, north of the 3,122-foot-tall South Turner Mountain.
This is one of several backcountry trail networks in Baxter State Park, which was given to the state of Maine as a gift by Gov. Percival Baxter (1876-1969). Throughout his lifetime, Baxter pieced together the park by purchasing 28 parcels totaling 200,000 acres. And while he intended Katahdin Lake to be included in the park, he was unable to purchase and donate the land and pristine lake.
Bissell praised the Sewall family, which was represented at the special meeting of the park authority by Tingey Sewall of Boston, James Page of Old Town and Thomas Gary of Mashpee, Mass.
“[The land] is a very historic piece of Maine, and these families are very historic parts of Maine. Jim Page, to me, represents the best of Maine,” Bissell said.
Page said Sewall family members have a primitive camp on the land, which they will continue to use. But he said all involved were happy to sign the easement.
“This seems to be a great and workable compromise,” said Page, who is also the chancellor of the University of Maine System. “The park has clarity around the use of that parcel and our two senses of how that parcel and the lake should be used have always lined up, so this formalizes it.”
And Page agreed with Bissell’s assessment of both the former Huber land and the land that is affected by the easement.
“You just stand at the outlet [to Katahdin Brook] or on one of those beaches and the view will speak for itself,” Page said.
Bissell said he had several discussions with Page about the land over the course of several years.
“I think we were in perfect lockstep [regarding an easement] for a long time,” Bissell said. “Jim thought it should be protected as it was, but he wanted to keep it in the family. The family had used it for remote recreation for years, and they wanted to make sure they could continue to do that. A conservation easement was the way to achieve that.”