Deep in the heart of Maine’s wilderness, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument covers 87,563 acres of mountains, rivers and forest. But what’s really there? Why was it worth conserving?
Author, educator and explorer Eric E. Hendrickson of Presque Isle tackles these challenging questions in his new book, “Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument,” published in July by The History Press. In 192 pages, Eric Hendrickson reveals many of the monument’s natural and historic features, from old logging camp ruins to rare plants.
“I knew this was a beautiful area with a lot of history, but I kept hearing people say there was nothing here of any value,” he said. “So I started searching, and the more I searched, the more I found.”
In this search, Eric Hendrickson, who grew up in East Millinocket, was joined by his wife Elaine Hendrickson. Together they explored the monument by bike and foot — and in the winter, skis — for several years. Not only did they travel the property’s many roads and trails, they bushwhacked off the beaten path, deep into the forest, to discover what wonders lay hidden within.
“Both of us are very comfortable with a compass and GPS,” he said. “I’ve guided for years, and we both taught science and natural history. We’re pretty comfortable in the outdoors.”
Their exploration of the land began before the property was officially designated as a national monument in 2016. In fact, when it was being considered for monument status, Eric Hendrickson traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify to the U.S. Department of Interior about his findings.
Since the monument was signed into creation, he has helped National Park Service staff find and access specific locations on the property. He’s also served as a guide for many local groups, and for professionals such as archeologists and botanists.
“He’s been, you know, you could call it a citizen scientist — or citizen historian,” said KWW superintendent Tim Hudson. “He’s a volunteer, and he’s a great source of knowledge. He’s been on the land a lot longer than we have, and that land has never been public land before so there’s a lot of old history there.”
Every time Eric and Elaine Hendrickson find something new in the monument, they record its GPS coordinates and mark it on a map, which they share with the National Park Service.
Artifacts they’ve found over the years include old skis and sleds, axes, peeveys, old bottles and cans, barrel hoops, the frameworks of long-gone logging camps, fossils, the remains of old dams and what they believe to be a lone grave. The list goes on and on.
In addition to history, the book covers some of the monument’s natural features, including fens, eskers, boulder fields, waterfalls, rivers, streams, mountains and the variety of fauna and flora.
“We visited some of the special wetlands and found 10 different types of orchids,” Eric Hendrickson said.
To find these features — whether natural or manmade artifacts — Eric Hendrickson consulted with local residents and others who’d conducted research on the history of the region. He also referred to historic photographs, artwork and maps, and worked closely with Rhonda Brophy, curator at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum.
“We used the Patten museum as a tool,” he said. “A lot of the time, you’d find pieces of a pot or cookware, and then go to the museum and someone has collected [and preserved that type of item] and you can see the whole thing.”
The new book is a collection of Eric Hendrickson’s efforts, but not necessarily a culmination of them. The Hedricksons continue to explore the monument, traveling down from Presque Isle on a weekly basis to comb a new area of the vast property.
“We found a rifle and an oxen yoke last week,” Eric Hendrickson said. “We just GPS where they are so archeologists can find them.”
To date, Eric Hendrickson has collected more than 800 historic photographs from the Katahdin region, 70 of which are included in the book. More of those photos will be shared in his upcoming book, “Logging in Wassataquoik Valley,” which will be published by Arcadia Publishing, though the release date has yet to be announced.
To share what he’s learned and showcase his two books, Hendrickson created the Facebook page “Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (History),” in February. There he posts daily photos and tidbits of information about the monument.
“With COVID-19, I wasn’t interested in doing book talks and signings [unless virtual], so this was my way to do outreach,” he said.
So far, the book “Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument” has been a big hit, he said, selling out multiple times at local bookstores and gift shops. As it turns out, plenty of people are interested in what treasures lie in Maine’s new national monument.
Eric Hendrickson has accomplished what he set out to do: show the value of the land. And he plans to carry on with his explorations and documenting as the monument takes shape in the years ahead.
“I will continue putting all the pieces together in the monument,” he said, “And I’ll try to find those special places in all the nooks and crannies I haven’t yet visited.”
“Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument” by Eric Hendrickson can be found at Maine bookstores, including stores near the monument such as Red Moose Gifts in Patten and the gift shop at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum. The book is also available online through The History Press and online booksellers.