TOWNSHIP 3, RANGE 8, WELS — The promise of not seeing another human during a two-day backcountry trip to a lake beside Mount Katahdin? Pretty sweet.

The chance to paddle out onto the empty lake and look back at the Knife’s Edge and Katahdin Priceless.

When Jensen Bissell, the Baxter State Park director, said that would be the experience at the North Katahdin Lake lean-to along the southeast border of the 210,000-acre park, it seemed doubtful, given that the Katahdin Lake portion of the park is an easy drive from the southern and busiest entrance to the park.

From Togue Gatehouse it’s a 20-minute drive to the Katahdin Lake trail head at Avalanche Field, which is just below Roaring Brook Campground, one of the jumping-off points to hike Mount Katahdin. From there it’s an easy 4.5-mile hike, not quite two hours with a 40-pound pack.

Yet Katahdin Lake, with a trail that is just 4 years old and lean-tos that are just 2 years olds, are not part of the park’s crowds and bustle at least not yet.

This summer, park officials are considering ways to make the Katahdin Lake experience even richer as they prepare to develop the newest acquisition to the park: the 143-acre parcel donated by the Huber Resources Corp. of Old Town. Over the next year, as the newest acquisition in Baxter State Park is developed, a piece of history undoubtedly will attract more park users.

This winter, the park acquired the land around three tiny beaches that hold some of the best views in the park. The gift from the Huber family includes 4,000 feet of lake frontage that has drawn scores of artists, including American landscape painter Frederic Church in the 1850s. The pocket beaches, including the one called Church’s Beach or Painters’ Beach, have views to Great Basin.

Also in this 143-acre parcel, Rocky Pond and Katahdin Brook lie just to the east of the beaches and have their own charm along the eastern border of the park.

Certainly anyone can paddle now to this land. But what kind of access will be allowed in the future at this famous site is what park officials are trying to decide, as they also consider keeping the wilderness park wild.

The parcel is small but significant. And however it is developed or not developed will have a lasting impact. Should it have a tent site, a lean-to, a trail leading to it, a canoe left at the pond behind it, or none of these amenities?

The first step in deciding took place two weeks ago when Bissell guided the members of his advisory committee of 15 park users to the scenic spot.

“They don’t make policy but they make it better,” Bissell said.

An advisory member, Rick Bray of Brunswick, felt a trail to the beaches was important. And Bray also favors a campsite or lean-to near the beaches.

“I think there is a good possibility for one or the other. That certainly came up early in the discussion. I heard one advisory member say, ‘Oh, absolutely not. We shouldn’t spoil it with a campsite.’ I tend to look at it differently. Baxter wanted people to enjoy this,” Bray said. “One of the very nice things is the beaches on the side of the lake. They have unbelievable views of Katahdin, unmatched from anywhere else in the park.”

Others on the committee are against much development at the site.

“My feeling on it is there is really no rush to put a campsite down there. There are already two on the lake. That’s my feeling. I think a canoe would be nice on Rocky Pond for anyone who wants to go fishing there,” said Dave Edwards, an advisory member in Pownal.

A rough trail already exists to the beaches from Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, at the south end of the lake. But there are more than 300 miles of trails in the park, which all require upkeep.

And as with all things in the wilderness park, there are the other park users to consider — the wildlife.

Bissell said park staff considered putting one of the two lean-tos on Katahdin Lake on the lake’s island. Then he realized moose go there to calf, and he wanted to let the moose have the island as a safe haven for that purpose.

So how Painters’ Beach will be developed is uncertain now, but Bissell said every possibility will be considered, and a plan for it should be finalized by the end of the year.

“There are lots of options. We can’t do them all,” Bissell said. “How many canoes do you allow before it starts to feel like it’s not a wilderness? I like to err on the conservative side. Once you put in a lean-to, it’s hard to take it out.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]

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