The long ridge line of Katahdin is seen from Lily Pad Pond in Baxter State Park in this May 18, 2017, file photo. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

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Baxter State Park plans to increase recreational access June 15, opening its two main gates for vehicle access, according to the Baxter State Park administration.

“We recognize that connecting with the natural world is an important salve in this time of anxiety, and we look forward to partnering with the public to make this a safe season,” Baxter State Park Director Eben Sypitkowski said in a statement.

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Beginning June 15, Baxter State Park will open Togue Pond and Matagamon gates from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily for vehicle access on the park’s Tote Road. This includes:

— On the north end, from Matagamon to McManus Brook (just north of Nesowadnehunk Campground) and the Scientific Forest Management Area

— On the south end, Togue Gate to Abol Hill, including Abol Pond and Togue Pond Beach

This will provide access to more than 60 miles of trail within 5 miles of the Tote Road, fishing access to more than 25 ponds and seven streams, and several picnic and day-use areas.

This partial opening of the park comes half a month earlier than the park originally planned.

The decision was made to provide people, especially local residents, limited access to the park while remaining cautious about COVID-19, Sypitkowski said. He also mentioned that the popularity of certain June activities influenced the decision.

“There’s a lot of the focus on fishing access at this point,” Sypitkowski said.

As is typical of this time of year, travel above treeline remains prohibited to protect sensitive alpine plants as spring arrives in higher elevations. Trails above the treeline, including those on Katahdin and Traveler Mountain, are tentatively set to open July 1.

The park is encouraging visitors to follow CDC guidelines to reduce transmission of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, as well as avoid high-risk recreational activities. The state of Maine strongly encourages people to wear face coverings in addition to maintaining a 6-foot distance from others.

Also beginning July 1, Baxter State Park intends to open for most camping opportunities. Bunkhouses, however, will not be available in 2020. Affected reservations holders will be contacted and offered transfers, credits or refunds without penalty. This postponement of opening park campgrounds ensures that the park can properly train staff and numerous volunteers in order to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all who visit or work at Baxter State Park.

Baxter State Park is pursuing several road improvement projects to enhance stream habitat

connectivity and infrastructure resilience to stronger storms associated with climate change. Expect roadwork projects on the Tote and Roaring Brook roads to restrict travel. Visit baxterstatepark.org for more information on road closures.

Also, on June 1, several trails impacted by the 45-acre Abol fire on May 21 reopened for public access. This includes the Appalachian Trail (as far as Katahdin Stream Campground), as well as the Foss and Knowlton, Blueberry Ledges, Abol Pond and Abol Stream trails. Visitors are encouraged to use extra caution in this area, where hazards may still be present.

Fulfilling Gov. Percival Baxter’s vision, Baxter State Park is a unique state park that’s independent of other state parks and campgrounds. The Baxter State Park director works with the Baxter State Park Authority, which is comprised of the state’s attorney general, the commissioner of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the director of the Maine Forest Service, to manage and operate the park. The Mills administration will continue to monitor the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine and re-evaluate park operations as necessary throughout the season.

All visitors entering Maine from out of state are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

For Maine residents, access to Baxter State Park is free. Nonresidents are required to pay $15 upon entering the park. Passes can be purchased online at reservation.baxterstatepark.org.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.