Maine is famous for its twenty-five hundred miles of seacoast, with its countless islands; for its myriad lakes and ponds; and for its forests and rivers. But Mount Katahdin Park will be the state's crowning glory, a worthy memorial to commemorate the end of the first and the beginning of the second century of Maine's statehood. This park will prove a blessing to those who follow us, and they will see that we built for them more wisely than our forefathers did for us.Despite his eloquence and persistence, Baxter was unable to persuade the state legislature to invest in the park. Consequently, when he departed from the political arena in 1925, he determined to acquire that special place for the people of Maine himself, parcel by parcel. Baxter was heavily engaged in politics in the 1925-1929 period in which he unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate so little was done in this period. Much of the land around Katahdin was owned by the Great Northern Paper Company and when the company's leadership changed at the end of the 1920s, Baxter saw a renewed opportunity. The company agreed to sell him almost 6,000 acres embracing the major part of Katahdin for $25,000 in 1930. This marked the beginning of the extraordinary mission which he accomplished over a 33 year period. After acquiring the tract, he gave it to the state to be held in trust with the proviso that the land:
...shall forever be used for public park and recreational purposes, shall be forever left in the natural wild state, shall forever be kept as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds, that no road or ways for motor vehicles shall hereafter ever be constructed thereon or therein.In 1931, the legislature named the park he had begun to amass in the heart of Maine woods in his honor. The story of his efforts tells much about what one man with foresight can accomplish if he has the will, the perseverance, and the means. Baxter was heir to a fortune, a wealthy man for sure, but a man careful with that money. He dickered well to get the lands that he put into his park. The effort consumed most of his energies and much of his family fortune. It wasn't easy. Some opposed him at every opportunity. Private landowners refused to sell their property, timber companies feared the banning of logging and sportsman worried over the loss of hunting grounds. Others ridiculed him as a fool for buying the burned-over and logged-out wastelands that most of these acres were considered to be.
Acquisitions were complex because historical actions in Maine had resulted in most land being owned jointly by several different parties and all owners had to be satisfied before Baxter could acquire complete title to each piece of land. Thus, the acquisition of the land required him to show extraordinary persistence, diligence and patience. In some cases he pursued pieces of property for over two decades before reluctant owners would sell to him. He was willing to be patient in acquiring land; willing to pay higher prices than the land would normally have brought in order to obtain it; and sometimes he purchased lands in outlying areas-often considerably better in quality than those that he sought-in order to exchange them with owners who were fearful of losing production potential for wood needed in the papermaking process.
Though he did not like the idea, at times he was willing to make some rather important concessions in his ideals for the park to obtain property. An example of such a concession was his agreement with the Eastern Company to acquire a major tract of 24,700 acres. So that the company would not lose valuable timber production, he first offered to acquire a similar size tract for them elsewhere. When that was rejected, he agreed to grant the company cutting rights for a period of 25 years on the tract. This was an enormous concession, but was the only way to obtain the land.
Political enemies challenged his efforts, both in the Maine statehouse and at the federal level, and their number included some who proposed that Baxter's gift be turned into a national park. Baxter was no fan of federal involvement in state affairs and he ensured that couldn't be done because he carefully crafted deeds of trust that controlled his gifts of land to the state over the years. He didn't trust the national park process, having witnessed too many time how governments could change the rules of the game unless bound by documents such as those he created to protect his park. Indeed, it may well have been a concern that the federal government might pursue a park in the Maine woods that drove Baxter to continue land acquisition long after Katahdin itself was protected. In so doing, he created a much larger park, one that likely dwarfs anything that the National Park Service might have done.
When his first donation was made, Maine had no state parks agency and the fledgling park was administered by the state's forestry commission. This was changed in 1933 when the state created the Baxter State Park Commission to administer the park. Subsequently, in 1939 this group was disbanded and responsibility was assigned to a new entity established by the legislature, the Baxter State Park Authority which received an annual legislature appropriation to carry out its duties. Even after the state park commission was formed, the Park Authority retained its autonomy.
Baxter's perseverance meant that in 1962 when at the age of 87, he donated his 28th deed to the state of Maine, the park comprised 202,018 acres. In addition, to the land, Baxter left a trust fund of nearly $7 million to ensure the park would be maintained and kept forever wild.
The 314 square miles, of what is often called Maine's Yellowstone, contains 47 mountain peaks and edges, of which 18 exceeded 3,000 feet. The dense boreal forest offers an unsurpassed habitat for wildlife including large game such as moose, deer, and black bear. The park is the terminus of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. Most in his time appreciated Baxter's efforts and thanked him for his generosity. Many in recent times point to his vision as an inspiration that they and others have followed. In 1999, Maine Governor Angus King referred to Percival Baxter's gift as, "probably the most extraordinary example of an individual's generosity in the history of this country."
In the 1921 speech, which was referred to earlier in this profile, Baxter exemplified remarkable vision and foresight, especially when it is recognized that at the time of his speech, it took nearly a week to reach Katahdin from Bangor, requiring a combination of train, boat, canoe, horseback, and foot travel:
This park will prove a great attraction, not only to the people of Maine who will frequent it, but also to those who come from without our state to enjoy the free life of the out of doors. The park will bring health and recreation to those who journey there, and the wildlife of the woods will find refuge from their pursuers, for the park will be made a bird and game sanctuary for the protection of its forest inhabitants.Throughout his life, Baxter retained a strong personal interest in the administration of the park, constantly looking over the shoulder of Helon Taylor whom Baxter persuaded to act as park supervisor from 1950 to 1967, and the three-person Baxter State Park Authority. Baxter had complete faith in the effectiveness of Helon Taylor stating in 1963, "anything about Baxter Park if approved by Mr. Taylor automatically receives my consent." Later, he wrote to Taylor, "Your personality makes the park and without you, I would lose most of my interest and probably I would not visit the park again." For many visitors to the park in the 1950s and 60s, Taylor was the park and he accomplished an enormous amount there with miniscule budgets.
Both by the terms of his transfer to the state and by his personal attentions thereafter, Baxter guaranteed that the park "shall forever be left in the natural wild state." Only one perimeter road was allowed, motor vehicles were restricted to that road (a restriction somewhat relaxed later for snowmobiles), and hunting limited to certain areas only. Baxter insisted upon the principles: "Everything in connection with the Park must be left simple and natural and must remain as nearly as possible as it was when only the Indians and the animals roamed at will through these areas... I do not want it locked up and made inaccessible: I want it used to the fullest extent but in the right unspoiled way." In a widely publicized statement late in 1941, he eloquently expressed his thinking with regard to the park:
Katahdin always should and must remain the wild stormswept, untouched-by-man region it now is; that is its great calm. Only small cabins for mountain climbers and those who love the wilderness should be allowed there, only trails for those who travel on foot or horseback, a place where nature rules and where the creatures of the forest hold undisputed dominion.
As modern civilization with its trailers and gasoline fumes, its unsightly billboards, its radio and jazz, encroaches on the Maine wilderness the time yet may come when only the Katahdin region remains undefiled by man. To acquire this Katahdin region for the people of Maine has been undertaken by me as my life's work, and I hope as the years roll on that this state park will be enjoyed by an ever increasing number of Maine people and by those who come to us from beyond our borders.
Katahdin stands above the surrounding plain unique in grandeur and glory. The works of man are short lived. Monuments decay, buildings crumble and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in its massive grandeur will forever remain the mountain of the people of Maine. Throughout the ages it will stand as an inspiration to the men and women of this state.When Baxter was made an honorary lifetime member of the American Institute of Park Executives, the citation said:
Rarely, indeed, is a state privileged to have a son so devoted to its future as Maine's Percival P. Baxter. To the park and recreation field his contributions are monumental. It has taken many years, considerable money, patience and legal talent extraordinary, and an abiding faith in the future to acquire, singlehanded, the 200,000 acres for Baxter State Park. The park encompasses and preserves New England's last wilderness. Every acre of this land was bought by Baxter who then gave it to the people of Maine.Although Baxter State Park is the most obvious manifestation of Percival Baxter's generosity, the citizens of Maine also have him to thank for Mackworth Island. In 1953, Baxter gave the one hundred acre island to the State of Maine, along with $225, 000 for the construction of a bridge and causeway to connect the island to the mainland. Baxter also enlarged the city of Portland's park system that his father had done so much to develop. In 1944, he gave the city 6 acres which he promised to reforest with his own funds. Two years later, in memory of his father, he gave the city 30 acres of woods which he instructed should be kept in its natural wild state. They were named the "Mayor Baxter Woods" and Baxter established an endowment in his will for their maintenance.
On June 12, 1969, Baxter died in Portland, Maine. Ironically, the $7 million endowment for the park's maintenance which Baxter established in his estate meant that in the early 1970s, for the first time, the park was well-resourced. His ashes were scattered throughout Baxter State Park, across the land that he loved so much. Yet his dream and his words live on. Today, his dream is etched into a plaque placed on a boulder by Katahdin Stream.
"Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine."
Hakola, John W. (1981) Legacy of a Lifetime: The story of Baxter State Park. Woolwich, Maine: TBW Books.
Silliker, Bill J. (2002) Saving Maine: An album of conservation stories. Camden, Maine: Dawn East Books
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