But Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain
The Mountain of the People of Maine.
Thus did Percival Proctor Baxter give the land that is now a park bearing his name to the people of the state of Maine. He gave the area to the people of Maine, not to the state of Maine. He knew better than to trust the land to the government. He was, after all, the governor.
Baxter became honcho in 1921. He tried to convince the legislature to protect Mount Katahdin, the premier high point of the state, and the surrounding land. The legislature refused. So ten years later, no longer governor, Baxter said screw it and bought this whole clump of real estate, including 6000 acres of wilderness. In 1931, he gave the territory to the people with the condition that it be made a park and that it be “forever wild.” Over the rest of his life, Baxter continued to buy land and add it to the park until he had donated a total of 201 018 acres.
This is a remarkable accomplishment as most parks are created on federal or state land, controlled by government agencies. In accepting no government funds, Baxter was able to assure that, in perpetuity, the land would remain “forever wild.”
Ranger Bob at the Visitors Center explains what forever wild means. Governor Baxter envisioned this place preserved in its pristine state. The United States government wanted to step in and make this a national park, but Baxter didn’t trust the feds to carry out his mission. He said ixnay on the arkpay by advocating “preservation first, recreation second.” There was to be no building of roads, no clearing for parking lots other than what already existed. No “improvements.”
Some years ago, the Park experimented by letting in as many visitors as could fit. Rangers even parked visitors’ cars in an efficient manner to allow room for more tourists. This practice stopped when the decision was made to revert to the original method of closing the entrances when the parking lots were full. Preservation first, recreation second.
I ask Ranger Bob, “Anybody ever give you a hard time for this tight policy? I mean, keeping things primitive is not comfortable for some folk.”
“Yeah,” Bob says. “They come in here and remind me that ‘We pay your salary,’ and ‘You work for me.’ Therefore they should get what they want. I politely explain that they actually don’t pay my salary. No taxes — none — go to Baxter State Park. The governor set up a $7 000 000 trust. My salary comes from that and from entry fees. That’s it.
“Governor Baxter said the park was to be ‘Forever Wild.’” Bob says this three times, each time I’m pretty sure that he bowed a little deeper, and the tone of his voice carried just a little more reverence. Like worshiping at the foot of Percival Baxter.
The agreement goes like this…
[The land] 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.
Thereon or therein, brother!
In 1999, Governor Angus King referred to Baxter’s gift as “probably the most extraordinary example of an individual’s generosity in the history of this country.”