December 3, 2023

Land Swap Proposal to Increase Baxter State Park

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Rex Turner, who writes columns for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and who is a member of Friends of Baxter State Park, has a piece today in the Morning Sentinel about the upcoming discussions concerning the land swap proposal that would add Katahdin Lake and about 6000 more acres to Baxter State Park.

While I am not opposed to adding 6000 acres to Baxter to further complete Governor Baxter’s dream, I am opposed to the manner in which it is being done. Turner begins his piece by stating that publicly owned land in Maine accounts for a meager 5% of the total land mass and he points out this is one of the lowest in the country.

Without getting too specific, the deal would take some of Maine public land and some private land and give it over to Gardner Land Co., owners of the Baxter Lake parcel, in exchange.

The problem with this concept is the loss of public land. This is not a clean exchange of land use for land use. The public land would fall back into the ownership of Gardner Land Co. and the 6000 acres adjacent to Baxter would become part of the Park and closed to many outdoor activities – hunting, trapping, snowmobiling, ATVs, motorized boats and logging operations.

Maine lags in much of the nation in providing public lands for recreation. Giving up a portion of this for the purpose of fulfilling one man’s dream might not be in the best interest of the citizens of Maine. As Turner says, they will soon decide.

I would like to see the proposal changed to include a commitment by the Maine Legislature to appropriate the necessary money to purchase enough public land to replace what is being lost to the Baxter land swap.

In Turner’s article he asks the question: “Is a 6,000-acre addition to Maine’s most iconic north woods park, managed per Gov. Baxter’s sanctuary principle, too much of a threat or loss to the hunting and snowmobiling community?”

To be able to answer that question, one needs to look at the entire picture which includes the future. I have pointed out several times already that Maine is lacking in providing public lands. This will come back to haunt the citizens in this state if this isn’t rectified soon. Our shrinking availability to land for recreation is dwindling every day. Taking away public land for the enlargement of Baxter Park the way it is proposed, is wrong.

Maine needs a bill that at least says that whatever dealings the state makes when bartering public lands, the result is a zero net loss. This proposal results in a loss of public lands. Today, the loss of that public land may not appear that great but look down the road. Even with the programs in place in Maine to purchase public lands, it is not happening at a fast enough pace.

I would suppose that I could ask a similar question to that of Mr. Turner. Is adding 6000 acres at the expense of losing the equivalent in public land too much of a threat or loss to Baxter State Park?

Time will tell. As stated by Mr. Turner, because the deal involves public land, the Maine Legislature would need to approve the swap by a 2/3 majority vote. I would encourage all Maine residents to contact their Representatives and tell them how you feel. In the meantime, would somebody please rewrite the proposal so that Maine would agree to purchase 6000 acres of more public land in exchange for what we will be losing?

That would let us all know that Maine citizens care not only about Baxter State Park but also the need for public lands.

Tom Remington