When Scott Jurek celebrated his ascent of Mount Katahdin on Sunday, culminating a record-setting traverse of the entire Appalachian Trail, a Baxter State Park ranger was there to greet him.
The ranger, however, was not giving out high-fives.
After the excitement over the accomplishment subsided, Jurek was handed three citations for violating park rules during the festivities atop Maine’s highest peak.
Formally, the summons issued to Jurek was for consuming alcohol within the park, hiking with a group larger than 12 people, and littering, which occurred when champagne sprayed into the air on the 5,268-foot summit hit the ground.
“We really don’t think that the top of Katahdin should smell like a bar,” Baxter Park Director Jensen Bissell said. “He hiked down with the summons.”
But it’s more than an issue of spilled champagne.
Bissell said Jurek and the corporate sponsorship that helped carry him to the record are anathema to the vision of the park set out by former Gov. Percival Baxter, whose 1931 donation of land and funding has made the park what it is today.
“I felt it was important to tell the story as we see it, and as trustees of the park it is important for us to protect that wilderness experience,” Bissell said. “These folks who came to the park, that’s not really their priority at all.”
The citations, while apparently announced to the media and Jurek’s followers on Katahdin on Sunday, were absent from accounts of Jurek’s journey that appeared in the following days, Bissell said.
So Bissell used the park’s Facebook page to provide “another perspective,” railing against the corporate funding and sponsorship of Jurek’s record attempt.
Bissell lamented the commercialization of a natural resource, and perhaps more unprecedented, he suggested that Baxter State Park may reconsider its relationship with the Appalachian Trail, although it was not clear what that would mean in practical terms.
“That’s one of the options on the table, there are others,” Bissell said. “But we need to have a more robust discussion on this.”
Lester Kenway, president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said that such a move would be within Baxter State Park’s prerogative.
“If that should occur, we would be doing everything possible to have our relationship with the park continue,” Kenway said. “Katahdin is a real prize. Whether it’s a hiker or a trail maintainer, it’s an iconic thing that motivates us all.”
Jurek, a champion ultramarathoner, covered approximately 47 miles a day to set the record, completing the roughly 2,180 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin in 46 days, 8 hours and 8 minutes. A Colorado resident, he didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday night.
Now stretching over 209,644 acres, Baxter State Park has earned a reputation as one of the state’s most pristine wilderness areas, and one of its most tightly managed, with rules that are stricter and more rigidly enforced than those found in most Maine state parks.
The park has its own endowment and operates outside of state government’s control, primarily being governed by a three-person authority charged with administering Baxter’s vision.
Bissell said the ranger also cited a media company for filming within 500 feet of Baxter Peak, the highest point on Mount Katahdin. The company, The Game Changers, LLC of Laguna Beach, California, had obtained a commercial media license that granted them permission to film, but was barred from doing so within 500 feet of the summit.
More than the infractions, Bissell’s lengthy, at times scolding, Facebook message appeared to be more concerned about the entourage of commercial sponsors that supported Jurek’s record attempt, and the use of the Appalachain Trail and Baxter State Park as the backdrops in their attempt to make a profit.
“Let’s be clear and concise, Scott Jurek’s physical abilities were recognized by corporations engaged in (selling) running and outdoor related products,” the post said.
“The race vehicle used to support Scott in his run, as well as Scott’s headband, clearly displays these corporate sponsors. The sponsors are providing money and equipment to support Scott’s run in exchange for advertisement and engagement that they expect will protect or increase their market share and improve their profits. … When Scott arrived at Baxter Park to complete his run at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he brought all of this to Baxter Peak, in Maine’s largest wilderness.”
The Facebook message was unsigned, but Bissell said on Thursday that he wrote it.
The Appalachian Trail spans 14 states and is recognized by the federal government, but it is not operated by any central entity. Instead, a combination of public and private groups, largely consisting of volunteers, helps manage trail maintenance, operation and conservation.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy estimates that between 2 million and 3 million people hike a portion of the trail annually, but only about 2,000 are “thru-hikers,” those who complete the entire trail in one attempt.
The tension between trail use and conservation has become more apparent in recent years, said Susan Tompkins, spokeswoman for the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, the volunteer organization that helps maintain the 267 miles of the trail in the state.
Popular books such as Cheryl Strayed’s 2013 “Wild” about a woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which was turned into a movie with Reese Witherspoon, and the 2006 book by Bill Bryson, “A Walk in the Woods,” about his attempt to hike the entire trail, and is due for its own film adaptation, have accelerated interest in trail hiking.
“This is nothing new in the greater Appalachian trail community,” Tompkins said. “I think it might be for Baxter State Park.”
This story was updated at 9:47 a.m. on Friday, July 17, 2015 to correct the affiliation of Lester Kenway.