Percival P. Baxter was governor of Maine during the years of 1921-1924. He enjoyed fishing and vacationing in the Maine woods throughout childhood and his affection for the land and Maine’s wildlife were instrumental in his creation of a park for people of the State of Maine. He began to fulfill his dream of a park in the year 1930, with the purchase of almost 6,000 acres of land, including Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak. In 1931, Baxter formally donated the parcel to the State of Maine with the condition that it be kept forever wild. Over the years, Governor Baxter purchased additional lands and pieced his park together, transaction by transaction. He made his final purchase in 1962 (download map). Since then,additional purchases and land gifts have increased the Park’s total size to 209,644 acres. About 75% of the Park (156,874 acres) is managed as a wildlife sanctuary. In the northwest corner of the Park 29,537 acres (about 14% of the Park) was designated by Governor Baxter to be managed as the Scientific Forest Management Area. In addition, about 25% of the Park (52,628 acres) is open to hunting and trapping with the exception that Moose hunting is prohibited in the Park.
Man is born to die, his works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.
Demonstrating not only enormous generosity, but admirable foresight, Baxter left a trust of nearly 7 million dollars to ensure that Park managers would have sufficient funds to maintain the Park without ever having to compete for Maine taxpayers’ dollars from the general fund account. He also stipulated that the sole governing authority regarding the Park and management would be a group of 3 public officials namely: the Commissioner of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Director of the Maine State Forest Service and the Attorney General. The individuals holding these three positions in Maine comprise the Baxter State Park Authority and as such are responsible for protecting the natural resources and upholding the conditions set forth in Governor Baxter’s Deeds of Trust. Park managers also work closely with the BSP Advisory, a committee of 15 citizens dedicated to examining issues and supporting the stewardship of the Authority. We invite you to read more about Governor Baxter’s Trust Communications here.
There are over 40 peaks and ridges besides Katahdin in the Park. The trail system features over 215 miles of trails popular with hikers, mountain climbers and naturalists. Baxter State Park operates eight (8) roadside campgrounds and two (2) backcountry campgrounds. There are also numerous individual backcountry sites for backpackers.
The Park is now a premier year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts. A year-round staff of 22 swells to about 61 in the summer, including office administration and reservation personnel, field and law enforcement rangers and resource specialists. Roughly 60,000 people visit the park in the summer months. Some stay for 10 nights, some visit only for one day. As visitation increases and the world becomes more complex, Park managers face new challenges daily that threaten to undermine the magnificent gift that Baxter left for all generations of Maine citizens to cherish.
Park donor Percival Baxter expressed his wishes regarding the management and operation of the Park in numerous communications attached to the deeds gifted to the State of Maine. Baxter wished that the Park
““…shall forever be retained and used for state forest, public park and recreational purposes…shall forever be kept and remain in the natural wild state…shall forever be kept and remain as a sanctuary for beasts and birds”,
and in its Scientific Forest Management Area, shall “become a show place for those interested in forestry, a place where a continuing timber crop can be cultivated, harvested and sold…an example and an inspiration to others.”
The principal intentions of Park donor Percival Baxter regarding the management of the Park as expressed in the Deeds of Gift and Formal Communications provide the fundamental mission of Baxter State Park. The mission of Baxter State Park can be expressed in six primary objectives:
To protect the natural resources of the Park for their intrinsic value and for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
To provide various appropriate recreational opportunities to Park visitors.
To conduct exemplary sustainable forest management operations within the 29,537 acre Scientific Forest Management Area of the Park.
To maintain the facilities, infrastructure and data systems of the Park.
To provide for the safety of Park staff and visitors.
To manage and protect the fiscal integrity and independence of the Park for current and future generations.
These six elements of our mission, and much more, are explored and defined in detail in the Park Management Plan.
The Park lies within the Northern Forest Region of the American Continent and experiences the cool, moist climate typical of this region. Climatic data from Caribou, Maine (70 air miles northeast) provides an overview of our seasons:
- Annual mean temperature: 38.6°F
- Record high temperatures: ∼ 95°F
- Record low temperatures: ∼ -45°F
- Average annual precipitation; ∼ 37″ (includes ∼ 100″/year snow)
Summer temperatures and conditions peak in the Park in July and August. Fall colors begin to emerge in deciduous trees in the Park in early September and fall colors usually peak in late September or early October. Leaf-fall in deciduous trees is complete by the end of October. Lasting snowfall usually begins in mid to late November and lasts through April. In the Park, leaves emerge on deciduous trees around the last week in May. Weather in Baxter State Park can be characterized primarily by its variability; snowfall can occur any month of the year and temperatures can, and often do, fluctuate widely around the averages.
Baxter State Park as we know it today began to develop about 12,000 years ago as the Laurentide ice sheet melted northward out of New England (Katahdin was once covered with glacial ice). Over the next 1,000 years the land that would become the Park developed a tundra ecology and the first human inhabitants left evidence of their presence. The following 1,000 years brought a steady emergence of forest growth:
Contrasting Forest Ecosystems in Baxter State Park
“The development of the first forests in northern New England disrupted Paleo-Indian culture. Northern boreal forests of spruce and fir support relatively little herbaceous vegetation, and therefore offer little subsistence for gregarious herbivores like the caribou. Some of the large herbivores, such as musk ox and caribou, remained on the tundra, drifting gradually northward out of the region. Many other species simply died out, no longer able to find enough forage.” ¹
Over the ensuing 8,000 years as the climate gradually warmed, the forests of northern Maine developed from the boreal forests now found further to the north to the spruce and fir dominated “Acadian” forest. This forest is characterized by poor or moderately drained soils, over compressed glacial till or areas of shallow soil over bedrock (Leak and Riddle, 1979). U.S. Department of Agriculture Bulletin 544 of 1917 offers a description of the earlier Park forests:
“…Spruce, birch, soft maples, white pine, hemlock , and balsam are the characteristic trees in mixture…The presence of black ash, which is usually accompanied by considerable balsam, denotes conditions bordering on the swamp type. The presence of sugar maple, on the other hand, denotes a transition to the hardwood lands. White pine of good quality formerly occurred in abundance in this type in both Maine and the Adirondacks… Spruce attains an intermediate development here, while birch and the better hardwoods are inferior in development as compared with the same species growing on the hardwood lands……Windfall is not uncommon, and as a result young even-aged stands of spruce are found occupying the ground where this has taken place”.
A landmark study by Ralph S. Hosmer in 1902-3 in a Greenville area Township described a tract of “virgin forest” of 20 acres (even by the 1900’s unharvested forest was rare) on sites similar to Baxter State Park. Over ninety percent of the stand was composed of five species; red spruce (65.4%), yellow birch (14.3%), sugar maple (5.7%), paper birch (4.1%) and balsam fir (2.7%).² The maximum diameter of spruce measured on the site was 27 inches. In most respects, this description would probably apply reasonably well to the forests of Baxter State Park around the start of the nineteenth century. Without question, human action over the ensuing decades has altered the forest mosaic in many ways.
¹ From a draft synthesis paper on the effect of forest practices in northern forest lands, C.R. Foss, L.S. Deming, S.F. Gage, Audubon Society of New Hampshire, 1992.
² Pg.79 ” A Study of the Maine Spruce” by Ralph S. Hosmer, as part of the Maine Forest Commissioner’s Report of 1903, Table 4.
The Park is home to numerous mountains, the two most notable clusters being the peaks comprising and surrounding the Katahdin massif and the cluster of peaks in the northern part of the Park consisting of the Traveler Range. Pink and white Katahdin granite make up the rugged mountains on the southern end of the Park while the Traveler range further to the north is composed of Rhyolite with prominent columnar jointing visible in many places. The north end also features sedimentary rock in certain localities. Glacial features are abundantly evident throughout the Park in the form of kettle ponds, eskers, moraines, erratics, the Knife Edge arête, the glacial cirques of Katahdin and the splendid U-shaped valley running north to south from the Travelers to South Turner.
The mountains combine with a wide array of ponds, lakes, streams, waterfalls and bogs to create a varied and beautiful landscape. Favorite waterfalls include Katahdin Stream Falls, Big and Little Niagara Falls and the remote Green Falls. Two of the most significant streams are Nesowadnehunk Stream and Wassataquoik Stream. Ponds such as Kidney and Daicey Ponds, Grassy Pond, Rocky Pond and the Fowler Ponds, among many others, provide excellent fishing in most cases and the chance to canoe with friends and family with the scenic north woods as a backdrop. We have numerous bogs with the associated plants, birds and wildlife unique to such areas. In the forested areas, wildlife includes moose, deer, bear, otter, mink, marten, fisher, weasel, coyote, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, woodchucks, snowshoe hare, squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, mice, and voles. Avid birders enjoy the variety of environments found in the Park, resulting in sightings of many different wood warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers as well as game birds, several species of owls and hawks, and many ducks and other wetland birds. Amphibians and reptiles are representative of freshwater habitats throughout northern New England and provide our young campers some engaging encounters. Insect life is abundant and diverse, including some beautiful beetles, dragonflies and butterflies, however, the insatiable black fly seems to have achieved the greatest notoriety in the memories of some of our campers!
The plant life in the Park is as varied as the terrain and wildlife. From wetland plants to woodland ferns and wildflowers to alpine plants, the regular Park visitor will find a plant guide to be very useful. However, the plants that are sure to be most popular with most summer visitors are the blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Just remember to check the other side of the bush to find out if a resident black bear has prior claims on the bush!
Baxter State Park was originally conceived as a park “for those who love nature and are willing to walk and make an effort to get close to nature”³ Unlike some parks which are designed to display the area via auto access, with groomed viewpoints along the road and convenient travel by automobile, the features and diversity of Baxter State Park are best seen on foot. The Park was designed primarily to be a hiking park with vehicular access on the limited and very primitive road system intended not as a means to thoroughly experience the wilderness but only as a way for visitors to reach their starting point. There are over 200 miles of trail maintained by the Park. These trails range from the heavily-used boardwalks around Sandy Stream Pond to the remote and little traveled Freezeout and rugged Northwest Basin Trail. There are moderate trails around ponds, pleasant trails to waterfalls and challenging boulder-strewn pathways up many of our mountains. All these trails must be marked, brushed out and repaired regularly, and many must be relocated to more durable surfaces. Our Trail Specialists identify and plan this work, and the Maine Conservation Corps trail crews carry it out. They are joined each summer by dozens of individuals who volunteer either as a group or alone to contribute their time and effort to maintain quality trail access to this Park.
³ Governor Percival P. Baxter.