Maine’s national monument managers have a simple plan for visitors who get injured or lost while visiting their controversial new space: Call 911.
Despite the area’s generally poor cellphone coverage, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument officials will primarily rely upon the state’s 911 emergency system. Some monument volunteers, who try to be on-site daily, carry cellphone boosters or radios to help offset the lack of signal, Superintendent Tim Hudson said.
And emergency responders say they can effectively respond to accidents, crimes or lost visitors in the 87,562 acres of dense forest.
“Anything that happens in the monument would be an extension of the way we already handle cases,” said Thomas Judge, the executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, which transports patients via helicopter. “You call 911 and, between us all, we sort out the best response to meet the need of wherever they are.”
Safety has been a focus for critics as the monument, east of Baxter State Park, settles into its first full season.
Katahdin Woods began accepting visitors a day after the presidential executive order creating it was signed in August 2016. It lacks basic features, such as an on-site visitor’s center, that will be added as its management plan develops, and has drawn criticism for having roads unsuitable for tourists even as it continues to steadily draw them — 1,747 vehicles at last count.
Judge said he has no worries about his agency’s performing rescues at Katahdin Woods, but might suggest creating landing zones within the monument for his organization’s three helicopters.
Baxter State Park has spaces designated for that use, he said.
Representatives of a dozen agencies, including state police, Maine Warden Service, LifeFlight and Maine Forest Rangers, meet several times annually to discuss emergency responses, Judge said. The planning already done covers the monument, said Regional Ranger Bill Greaves of the Maine Forest Service.
“Other than the fact that it’s owned by the federal government, nothing has really changed,” Greaves said. “Our major responsibility is to respond to wildfires, and we will respond up there like we have in the past.”
And the park service makes clear that visitors should expect a wilderness experience, and plan accordingly. That means they should follow common-sense safety planning and bring any equipment they might need. The best defense against calamity is awareness, Maine Warden Service Lt. Dan Scott said.
“You should really know what you are getting yourself into,” Scott said. “Just because it is a monument doesn’t mean it is not wilderness, and wilderness can kill you. It’s not a Disney ride.”