Wednesday, December 4, 2013
PORTLAND – On Aug. 6, 1962, former Gov. Percival Baxter acquired his 28th and final parcel of land in northern Maine, fulfilling a lifelong dream of creating a park around Mount Katahdin.
Don Elliot of Portland, with his dog Chessie, and Sarah Whitney of South Portland, with her dog Lanie, walk the trails of Baxter Woods in Portland on Monday. In 1946, Gov. Percival Baxter gave Portland the 29.5 acres to be kept in its natural state. The park was named in honor of Baxter’s father, Portland Mayor James Phinney Baxter.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
Gov. Percival Baxter fly fishes in Kidney Pond with Mount O.J.I. in the background at Baxter State Park, for which he donated the first parcel in 1931. The photo is from “Baxter State Park and Katahdin,” by John W. Neff and Howard R. Whitcomb.
Courtesy Harold Dyer Collection,Raymond H. Fogler Library, University of Maine
IF YOU GO WEDNESDAY
6 A.M.: At Barrows Sundial at the corner of Baxter Boulevard and Vannah Avenue, historian Herb Adams talks about former Mayor James Phinney Baxter. Bring your own coffee.
10 A.M. TO NOON: Hike of Mackworth Island Wildlife Sanctuary and visits to the Baxter School for the Deaf, Baxter Mansion and Museum. $2.
NOON TO 1:30 P.M.: Bring-your-own-lunch picnic on Mackworth Island with geologist Walter Anderson.
2 TO 3 P.M.: Visit to Baxter family plot in Evergreen Cemetery with state historian Earle Shettleworth.
3:15 P.M.: Dedication of sign and walkway in Baxter Woods with Portland Parks and Forest manager Jeff Tarling and Baxter State Park director Jensen Bissell.
3:30 TO 5 P.M.: Tour of Frederic Church at Portland Museum of Art. Reservations were required two weeks in advance.
5 P.M. TO 8 P.M.: Reception at Maine State Historical Society, $25 admission, 80-person limit.
A CAPSULE HISTORY OF BAXTER STATE PARK
1903 Percival Proctor Baxter visits the northern Maine wilderness around Mount Katahdin for the first time.
1921 Baxter is president of the state Senate when Frederick Parkhurst dies a few weeks after becoming governor. Baxter automatically advances to the governorship for the remainder of Parkhurst's term.
1922 Gov. Baxter is elected governor.
1925 Baxter leaves office.
1930 Baxter makes his first land purchase of 5,960 acres, which includes Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.
1931 He formally donates the parcel to the state with the condition that it be kept forever wild. Over the years, Baxter purchases additional lands and pieces together his park, transaction by transaction.
1933 By resolve of the Maine Legislature, the area is officially designated as Baxter State Park and the summit is named "Baxter Peak" in his honor.
1962 Baxter makes his final gift of 7,764 acres. Baxter State Park is a wilderness area of more than 200,000 acres, most of which Baxter acquired by negotiating 28 deeds over the course of 32 years.
1969 Percival Baxter dies at the age of 92. His ashes are scattered from a plane flying over Mount Katahdin. He leaves a trust of nearly $7 million to ensure that park managers will have sufficient funds to maintain the park without having to compete for Maine taxpayers' dollars from the General Fund account.
1976 The Baxter State Park Authority bans snowmobile use in the state park.
A weeklong camp-in ends when some two dozen Penobscots and Passamaquoddies give up their attempt to establish a settlement in the shadow of Katahdin. The Indians regard Katahdin as sacred territory and an important part of their spiritual heritage.
1977 Fire rages through Baxter State Park, leaving 1,700 acres of blackened trees.
1981 Snowmobiles may legally return to "forever wild" Baxter State Park when the Park Authority votes to allow the machines on parts of the perimeter road, where automobiles are allowed during the summer.
2002 Irvin "Buzz" Caverly, the director of Baxter State Park, warns that the park is beginning to suffer from too many people. About 100,000 people in 25,000 vehicles visit the park each summer. Mount Katahdin bears the brunt of this pressure, with as many as 50,000 hikers each summer.
LOCAL SPOTS ASSOCIATED WITH THE BAXTER FAMILY
• Baxter Woods (donated by Gov. Percival Baxter in honor of his father, Mayor James Baxter)
• Baxter Pines (donated by Gov. Percival Baxter, creating a 4.5-acre bird sanctuary)
• Mackworth Island, Baxter School for the Deaf and the Baxter Mansion and Museum in Falmouth (donated by Gov. Percival Baxter)
• Sundial Park, at the corner of Baxter Boulevard and Vannah Avenue (donated in honor of Mayor James Baxter)
• Baxter Boulevard (envisioned by and named in honor of Mayor James Baxter)
• Baxter Monument in Evergreen Cemetery, final resting place of Gov. Percival Baxter and Mayor James Baxter
• Baxter Library (donated by Mayor James Baxter as the city's first library)
Today, Baxter State Park boasts nearly 205,000 acres, 46 mountain peaks -- including the highest peak in the state at 5,267 feet, and 18 peaks taller than 3,000 feet -- and 180 miles of trails.
On Wednesday, officials from Baxter State Park, the city and the Maine Historical Society will gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Portland native's final land purchase for the park.
"It was one of the greatest one-man shows in Maine conservation history," said historian Herb Adams, an adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College who will help kick off Wednesday's events.
Celebrations will take place at several locations throughout Portland -- more than 200 miles from the state park that bears Baxter's name.
The day begins at 6 a.m. at Sundial Park on Baxter Boulevard and includes a hike on Mackworth Island in Falmouth, a visit to the Baxter family plot in Evergreen Cemetery and rededication of Baxter Woods.
The Baxter family has a long history of philanthropy in Portland -- including donations that led to the city's first library and a 30-acre park -- so it is only fitting that events be held in Maine's largest city, said Barbara Bentley, president of the Friends of Baxter State Park.
"(Gov. Baxter) was quite a forward thinker about wilderness and preserving it," Bentley said. "He was ahead of his time."
On Thursday, the city will continue the celebration from 9 a.m. to noon at Portland Public Library, where the Portland city arborists and representatives of the Maine Project Learning Tree, Maine State Forest Service and Project Canopy will talk about Baxter Woods.
Baxter's father, Portland Mayor James Phinney Baxter, is regarded as the father of Portland's park system, according to City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
In 1905, Mayor Baxter commissioned a report outlining his vision for a public park system. The report, "The Park System of Portland," laid out plans for Deering Oaks park and the Eastern and Western promenades, among others.
Mayor Baxter purchased the area now known as Baxter Woods in 1921. In 1946, Baxter's son, Percival Baxter, donated 29.5 acres of the forested land to the city as a municipal forest in honor of his father.
On Monday, visitors to Baxter Woods ranged from a Portland high school's cross-country team to dog-walkers.
Judith Minoff, who lives a few minutes away, said it is a great place for her 9-month-old puppy, Lacy, to interact with other dogs.
"It's a nice quiet place and it's relatively shady when the weather is really hot," said Minoff, who said she likes that she can spend time in the woods and still stop in at a grocery store on the walk home.
For Waynflete coach Brian "Ziggy" Gillespie, the rugged terrain is perfect for training. On Monday, he was shouting out times to two dozen runners. He brings the team out every Monday to train on the paths that meander through the urban forest.
"This is such a great path, and the downhill and uphill (parts) are like a course."
Mayor Baxter is buried in the family plot at Portland's Evergreen Cemetery, where state historian Earle Shettleworth will be reading excerpts from about a dozen letters penned by Gov. Percival Baxter, one of which was discovered in a tin box in the cornerstone of a World War II monument in Kittery.
Shettleworth said that letter is interesting because it was written in 1924 as Baxter was ending his term as governor. His letter contemplates what he will do in retirement, saying, "with health, means, position and experience I ought to find some niche in which I will fit."
(Continued on page 2)
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Gov. Percival Baxter made the first land purchase of what would become Baxter State Park in 1930, five years after leaving office. The entire project would take him 32 years.
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