September 24, 2023

Baxter Debate Heated

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As expected the debate yesterday about adding about 6,000 acres of land to Baxter State Park became heated and passionate, each side with their own strong views.

What appears to be shaping up as the dividing issue is how to use the land if and when it becomes part of the Park. Those pushing hardest for the deal say the 6,000 acres needs to become part of the sanctuary as set up with the vast majority of the rest of the Park, meaning limited access and limited use, locking out hunters, trappers, snowmobilers, ATV riders and seaplane access to Katahdin Lake.

On the other side, you have those who do not oppose adding the 6,000 acres providing it gives normal recreational access. Unfortunately for everyone, it appears to be shaping up as a we vs. them battle.

The deal which has been negotiated behind the scenes over the past 3 years, would allow a nationally based, non-profit organization called Trust for Public Land, to raise $14 million dollars to purchase lands, including about 7,400 acres of Maine public lands. The group would then swap their purchase with the 6,000 acre piece that includes Katahdin Lake, owned by Gardner Land Co. It’s a very complicated deal and because it involves public lands, the Maine Legislature would have to approve the sale by a 2/3 majority vote.

There are those passionate in taking advantage of this opportunity to fulfill what they call Governor Percival Baxter’s dream of including Katahdin Lake as part of the park project. They say his vision included both Katahdin Mountain and the Lake. Their passion seems strong enough that they are beginning to alienate themselves from the rest of Maine’s outdoor enthusiasts who want to see the land opened up to multi-use purposes of recreating. A definate divide has emerged between the two sides threatening the deal.

The deal as written would exclude certain uses of the park and any changes in the deal, including how the land will be used, would bring all sides back to the bargaining table to renegotiate.

Alfred Cooper, owner of Katahdin Lakes Camps, who attended the hearing yesterday said that he resented the fact that he is being treated as inferior because he likes to hunt and trap. He encouraged the Legislature to change the plan to safeguard traditional uses of the land.

The real divide that is growing rears its ugly head in comments made by John Glowa of South China when he said that hunters, trappers and snowmobilers don’t have a lock on Maine’s outdoors and outdoor heritage. He also said that being one of the 90 percent of Mainers who don’t hunt, he’s tired of the outdoor extremists trying to impose their wills on the rest of us.

These attitudes are what are becoming more and more prevalent across Maine as the make-up of the Maine citizen changes. It is changing for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the influx of out-of-state residents who do not enjoy the hunting, fishing and outdoor heritage in the same way that Maine natives do. This is creating the great divide. Fortunately for everyone, there are enough still around willing to fight for the continuation of that heritage. I say everyone in that I still feel the groups pushing for the exclusive, limited uses of the park lands is selfish and shortsighted.
The Millinocket town council presented the Legislature a resolution stating in essence that the town supported the purchase of the Baxter land as long as it remained open to traditional uses.

George Smith, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said hunters and trappers never exclude others the way some users are now. He said about those wanting to exclude hunting and trapping from the park, “They’re the newcomers to the wilderness. Hunters have been there for centuries. Why do these people think hunters don’t deserve the same experience, the same solitude? If Gov. Baxter were here today, he would stand with me.”

The debate will rage over the next few weeks as lawmakers try to find perhaps a compromise that will work. Many fear that as it is written, there is not enough support to get the deal passed.

I have made my voice clear that I am willing to compromise in having the state guarantee the purchase of the same amount of public lands lost in the swap that would provide the same quality traditional recreational uses as we are giving up. I think that is a fair and reasonable request. And, as a hunter, hiker and all around outdoor enthusiast, I would be willing to share that land with everyone.

Previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Tom Remington