The lumber capital of the world, 19th century Bangor was also the last major city for expeditionists traveling into Maine’s great north woods. They would stop to purchase provisions, hire a guide and launch a canoe into the Penobscot River, which they followed all the way to the Katahdin region, what is now Baxter State Park.
This connection between the Queen City and Baxter State Park will be celebrated in downtown Bangor on July 24, a day that has been proclaimed by Gov. Paul LePage as “Governor Baxter Day.”
The daylong event, “ Governor Baxter Day: Bangor to Katahdin,” will feature naturalist-led hikes, historical tours, exhibitions, speakers and a plein-air paint out. Organized by the nonprofit Friends of Baxter State Park, the celebration doubles as a fundraiser for the Plants of Baxter State Park Project, an effort to create a complete inventory of plants in the park.
“I hope that the celebration appeals to families and children, but also arts enthusiasts. There’s something for everyone,” said Barbara Bentley, chairperson of the Governor Baxter Day Committee of Friends of Baxter State Park.
LePage’s proclamation summarizes some of former Gov. Percival Baxter’s deeds as a politician, philanthropist and conservationist.
Governor from 1921-25, Baxter gave more than 200,000 acres in 28 parcels — including Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin — to the state with the intent that it be “maintained primarily as wilderness.” Today, this wilderness, Baxter State Park, is visited by thousands of people annually.
The first celebration of Governor Baxter Day was held on Aug. 22, 2012, in Portland.
“In Portland, the focus was it being Baxter’s hometown,” Bentley said. “That drew an interesting cross section of people … [This year] we decided to move closer to the object of our affection — Katahdin — and try something in Bangor.”
The main event of this year’s celebration will be the “Top of Bangor Tour & Reception,” which will begin at the historic and recently renovated 1857 Joseph Low House (51 Thomas Hill Road in Bangor), then move to the Thomas Hill Standpipe, a 50-foot-tall tank from which Katahdin can be seen in good weather.
The tour will culminate with a reception, 5-7 p.m., in the Low House’s historic barn. It will feature local food and beverages, live music, programs and a live auction. Tickets for the tour and reception are $25 per person and available at Epic Sports or at friendsofbaxter.org.
All proceeds from the tour and auction will go to the Plants of Baxter State Park Project.
“We thought it was going to be a five-year project when we started,” said Glen Mittelhauser, lead organizer of the Plants of Baxter State Park Project. “We’re barely on track. We haven’t had much success fundraising. I still think we could pull it off, though it’s getting more challenging.”
Funds from the Bangor celebration could help fund fieldwork cataloging plants in the park, data analysis and early work on the first draft of the field guide.
“I’m hoping to pull together a draft of [the field guide] this coming winter,” said Mittelhauser, one of the authors of the field guide “ The Plants of Acadia National Park.” Mittelhauser plans to model the Baxter guide after the Acadia guide, using simple keys and photographs so that the book accessible and useful to a wide range of people, from the typical park visitor to experienced botanists.
Other activities planned for Governor Baxter Day include:
— Bird walk, 7-8:30 a.m. at the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Meet at the Rolland F. Perry City Forest on Tripp Drive off Stillwater Avenue in Bangor. Free.
— Hike for families led by Field Pond Audubon Center, 9-10:30 a.m. at Gateway Park on Valley Avenue in Bangor. Free.
— Plein air paint out with Baxter State Park visiting artists, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m., along the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor. Juried participation.
— Walking tour of historical Bangor led by Dana Lippitt, curator of Bangor Museum and History Center, starting at the Harbor Master’s Office at 64 Front St. in Bangor. Tickets are $8 and available at www.visitbangormaine.com.
— Talk by Donn Fendler, author of “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” 11 a.m.-noon, at Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St. in Bangor. Free.
— Brown bag lunch and talk by David Little, author of “ Art of Katahdin,” noon-1:30 p.m., at Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow St. in Bangor. Free.
In addition, a photo contest, “Baxter State Park, Maine Native Plants, and Wild Bangor,” will be on display through July 23 at Epic Sports in Bangor in collaboration with the celebration. And an online auction of work by Maine artists, “Brushstrokes for Botany,” is open for bids through July 23 at 32auctions.com/brushstrokesforbotany. Proceeds from the photo contest and auction will go to the Plants of Baxter State Park Project.
“Even today, people heading for the park often stop for provisions in Bangor,” Bentley said. “Now, they go to Epic Sports and get lightweight hiking gear … Bangor is still a gateway to the great north woods.”
For information about Governor Baxter Day, as well as tickets for the tour and reception, visit friendsofbaxter.org or call 542-5207.