Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The photograph of an old man in a coat, fishing from a lakeshore would not give most people pause.
But in the context of the story of Baxter State Park, and certainly to fans of the wilderness park, the image of Percival Baxter casting below the mountain he protected is a portrait of a steadfast will and unyielding determination to achieve the unexpected.
The collection of 226 photographs woven together by the words of John Neff and Howard Whitcomb in "Baxter State Park and Katahdin" is an unusual story.
The book that will be released May 21 is the first of its kind and very likely the first time some of the photos in it have been published.
And when Arcadia Publishing approached the Friends of Baxter State Park about working on the latest in their Images of America series, the friends group was lucky to have two historians up to the challenge.
Neff, who has written about the park's cultural significance, and Whitcomb, who has written about the politics behind its creation, know the stories better than most.
And for Neff and Whitcomb, who both have hiked the land around Katahdin for more than 50 years, working on this unique storybook was a personal journey.
"There were quite a few 'Ah-ha moments,' when we saw images we never thought we'd find. And we knew immediately we had to put those photos in the book," said Whitcomb, of Georgetown.
The two Baxter scholars traveled to archives in Millinocket, Orono, Bangor, Augusta, Portland and Boston to find the historic photos for the book.
They scoured more than 3,000 photographs and boiled down their findings to 400 worthy choices.
Then they took about half of their favorites and filled out the story of Baxter State Park in captions.
"We tried to cover quite a bit of ground, from the geological history to the Native American's relationship with the mountain, and the nature of that relationship. I think we put a stamp on the attitude held by the people of Maine, that this is sacred ground," Neff said.
It's a story that goes beyond a favorite outdoor destination of wilderness enthusiasts. It's a tale that is based around a single mountain, but one that touches on an ancient culture, famous artists, historic heroes, a beloved cartoon character and unimaginable victories.
From the story of the Native Americans' "Great Spirit" and Teddy Roosevelt's journey to the mountain, to its inspiration for Walt Disney's "Bambi," and finally, the 30-year quest by one man to protect the land around it, the story of Katahdin unfolds like an epic novel.
Neff said the goal in producing the book was to tell that story in a seamless, entertaining and accessible way.
But Whitcomb, like Gov. Baxter himself, said in telling the story of Katahdin through photographs, they also wanted to do their part to help protect this special place.
"We tried to put in a lot of valuable information that will help the park, hopefully in an unobtrusive way, such as carry-in and carry-out, leave no trace, and drive carefully on the roads. We tried to add that in a gentle but very deliberate way, so that people can appreciate this resource and treasure it, but tread gently there," Whitcomb said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: