October 17, 2018
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Maine Gov. Percival Baxter’s vision did not include national park

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It’s been nearly 46 years since Gov. Percival Baxter’s ashes were scattered through Baxter State Park, but he’s still protecting his life’s work. So it’s sad to see Buzz Caverly, who served the park faithfully for 45 years, support a national park right on Baxter’s border.

 

“There are some who will argue that such a plan would take over Baxter,” Caverly wrote, “but I am confident that a new park will not provide such a threat to the 28 deeds provided by Gov. Baxter over 32 years. He knew the heart and soul of Maine people. He was confident they would not violate this solemn trust.”

With due respect to Caverly, Baxter wasn’t so trusting. He wrapped his 200,000-acre gift so tightly in those deeds of trust that his wishes for his park must legally prevail. Howard Whitcomb added another level of security in 2005 with the publication of “Percival P. Baxter’s Vision for Baxter State Park: An Annotated Compilation of Original Sources.”

There’s no need to guess what Baxter would think about a national park encroaching on his park.

“No one feels more strongly against the Federal Government invading the State than I do,” Baxter wrote in a May 5, 1937, letter to Sheldon Wardwell, “and whatever parks we have in Maine in my opinion should be State rather than National Parks.”

Baxter answered the question of whether Roxanne Quimby’s 75,000 acres, even bolstered with a 75,000-acre recreation area, is worthy of a national park. It includes frontage on the East Branch of the Penobscot River, but because the river runs for 75 miles, many landowners could say the same. If a nice view of Katahdin were enough, a fair portion of Maine, including the scenic overlook on Interstate 95 north of Medway, would qualify.

The National Park Service says “a proposed unit will be considered nationally significant if it meets all four of these standards:

— It is an outstanding example of a particular type of resource.

— It possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of our nation’s heritage.

— It offers superlative opportunities for recreation for public use and enjoyment or for scientific study.

— It retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.”

Baxter knew Katahdin is the outstanding feature of the region. In fact, he counted on it.

In an Oct. 13, 1937, letter to Arthur Peck of the American Nature Association, Baxter wrote: “About a year ago a representative of the National Park Service talked with me about this matter and told me that unless the Federal Government could secure Baxter State Park, the Park Service would have no interest in the Katahdin region.

“He said that the mountain is the one feature in that region that interested them and that the Park would be located there only if the mountain was its chief attraction. When I told him that I would not consent to the state’s violating its trust, he assured me that the matter would be dropped.”

The national park standards don’t mention job creation, but Quimby’s economic studies estimated her park would add 451 to 1,055 jobs. How? Baxter attracts about 63,000 visitors annually and employs 21 full-time and 40 seasonal workers. A 2008 study estimated the total economic activity in Maine generated by Baxter visitors at $6.9 million, sustaining the equivalent of 87 full-time jobs and $2 million in household earnings.

Would a 75,000-acre park do better? Or just spread around the people heading for Baxter?

If jobs are the goal, don’t disregard the $8 billion industry that’s still a mainstay of the region. A 2013 University of Maine study reported forest products provide 5,152 jobs, both direct and indirect, in Penobscot County, 1,867 in Piscataquis and 6,749 in Aroostook.

Unfortunately, uncertainty discourages investment. What can’t be done near a national park? Quimby doesn’t own all the land within that recreation area. Will neighbors be pressured to sell?

To Caverly, Quimby’s “generosity and love for the area are consistent with what former Gov. Percival P. Baxter dreamed of.” But if she truly shared Baxter’s vision, she would donate her land to his park, rather than try to overshadow it.

Baxter wrote in a May 8, 1938, letter to Arno Cammerer, then director of the National Park Service: “The State of Maine can and will handle the Katahdin region in a manner satisfactory to our people.

“The National Government has ample fields elsewhere of its Park Service and I see no reason why Maine should give Katahdin to the Federal Government any more than it should give away Old Orchard Beach or Moosehead Lake.”

Patrick Strauch is executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council.

 


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