Small, white clouds seemed frozen in the pale blue sky. Heat bugs hummed as we sat on the top of South Turner Mountain. Everyone was thinking of what we’d be eating for supper at camp that night — we always are.
The peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches were just to hold the hikers over until the real food.
On the way up the mountain, black and yellow caterpillars littered the trail, and the line of hikers paused to watch a slow-moving toad. Baxter State Park is full of creatures, small and big.
The park is home to bears, deer, raccoons, red squirrels, chipmunks, minks, otters, beavers, muskrats, hares, bobcats, lynxes, fishers, martens, red foxes, coyotes, weasels and porcupines, according to the park website.
At 1:40 p.m., we had descended the mountain and detoured to Sandy Stream Pond. At Big Rock, we spied a young, antlered moose wading at the center of the pond. A female moose appeared on the far bank, and we watched them slowpoke around, dipping their heads in the water for nearly 20 minutes before the 13 of us hiked back to Roaring Brook parking lot.
After a swim at Togue Pond, the campers set to cooking dinner on propane stoves, coal grills and campfire grates.
Our group of 23 family and friends was stationed at Bear Brook Campground, which consists of three campsites separated by thin walls of trees.
At site one, a Dutch oven placed over a campfire pit on a grate had been cooking pork since 2:30 that afternoon. Next to it was a tinfoil package of red potatoes, onions, butter and spices.
At site two, dirty rice to go with Costa Rican hot pockets was cooked over a propane stove. Two Dutch ovens also were placed between layers of coals — mystery mocha cake and raspberry cobbler. A casserole dish held the remnants of a dessert called scotcharoos: a mixture of peanut butter, chocolate and Rice Krispies.
And at site three, two campers sat and sipped from plastic glasses of Cantina Zaccagnini, Italian red wine, while piecing together appetizers from a French baguette, Irish cheddar, olives and Spanish smoked sausage.
The table was laid out with coleslaw, raw vegetables and dip, pasta salad, cucumbers in vinegar, pulled pork on bulky rolls and a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. My cousin had a marinated cheeseburger.
After dinner, everyone congregated at site one. Just as we were about to start cooking jumbo marshmallows, a park ranger rolled into camp to tell us that we needed to put our unattended bottles and dishes in our vehicles.
“An animal bit a little boy on the mountain today,” he said. “A rodent. It’s because people are feeding animals intentionally and unintentionally. It broke the boy’s skin, so he was sent to get a rabies shot.”
Baxter Sate Park Rule 4.2 states: “No person may feed, bait or disturb any animal within the park,” with the exception of specific areas where trapping and baiting is permitted.
The ranger talked with us about the importance of leaving no food or drink containers unattended in our large campground. We knew the rule, but had never considered empty bottles to be a problem, and we’ve camped at Baxter for many years.
The rangers post signs in the outhouses reminding campers not to “taunt animals,” “stand next to animals for pictures,” or “allow animals to approach closer than 20 feet.”
You are inclined to snicker when you read, “Don’t push children closer to animals for photos.”
These rules seem obvious, if not ridiculous, to most Mainers who have lived surrounded by wild animals their whole life. But you’d be surprised what people will do for a photo. And many campers confess to have fed animals out of the goodness of their hearts.
Plus, critters get into stuff. On a camping trip in July, a Baxter chipmunk chewed into my cousin’s trail mix (which he left unattended on a picnic table), and we caught him red-pawed, twice. Sometimes shooing an animal away won’t deter it from stealing your Goldfish crackers and M&Ms. You have to take the initiative to put the food away.
Such strict enforcement of rules suggested that the rangers were noticing a problem with nuisance animals — ones that forage campgrounds regularly. Needless to say, we cleaned our Dutch ovens before hitting our sleeping bags.
Black bears are numerous in the park, according to Baxter State Park’s website, and sometimes the bears show up at campsites. In the Bear Brook outhouses, there is a list of things to do to keep bears away:
- Don’t feed them.
- Store all food and scented items in your vehicle with the windows rolled up or on a bear pole or cable over tree limb that’s 15 feet high.
- Don’t approach bears to take photos. If a bear walks toward you, shoo it away with hand gestures and loud noises (and cross your fingers).
In the morning, after frying up eggs and bacon for breakfast sandwiches, my cousin pulled out a can for the bacon grease. We didn’t want our excessive cooking to attract bears for the next group to pitch tents at Bear Brook.
That’s why there’s the Leave-No-Trace Rule stating that all that a camper carries into the park must be carried out.
Baxter State Park rules and regulations can be found at its website.