We frequently hear that Maine is pristine. Don’t believe it.

Whenever there’s a referendum regarding a land purchase or a developer is considering a subdivision, environmentalists usually deploy the word “pristine” to defend why the parcel should be protected.

From Land for Maine’s Future projects to the North Woods to your local land trust carving out “green spaces,” the word has been used many times in the political realm.

The irony is that most of Maine, while beautiful, is far from pristine. Maine, especially southern portions, is a manufactured, curated, cultivated, landscaped, artificial creation. From manicured coastal homes to urban downtowns to the surrounding farmland, Maine is far from aboriginal. Man has sculpted it into something else, and wilderness has been lost forever.

There is a spot in Maine, however, that is still pristine with overseers maintaining its natural state. It’s Baxter State Park – that huge, beautiful, mountainous landscape located just above my favorite town, Millinocket.

The 209,644-acre park is one of Maine’s last remaining pristine places. Gov. Percival Baxter, who owned and donated the former paper company acreage to the state in 1930, was a Portland real estate tycoon. Baxter donated the land as well as $7 million for operations. It operates on user fees to this day.

Baxter wanted as little human impact on the land as possible, even banning domestic animals from entering the park. It “shall forever be retained and used for state forest, public park and recreational purposes…and remain in the natural wild state…as a sanctuary for beasts and birds,” he said.

My brother and I camped and hiked in Baxter State Park during Labor Day weekend. We’ve visited before but this time we were taken with the true wildness of the place. Perhaps I’ve lived in the city and suburbs too long now, but during the course of the long weekend I realized my tolerance of the camping lifestyle needs some bolstering. I’m a little soft, in other words.

I don’t think I’m alone. The visit to a rugged place made me realize our culture has become a little soft and over-reliant on others’ help. Maine needs to return to its rugged roots, just as Percival Baxter wished for his park.

While many talk of preserving pristine natural landscapes, we can’t forget to preserve our pristine human traits. Our state, however, is gradually turning away, politically speaking, from its pristine cultural origins based on self-reliance.

Our quickly disappearing proud way of life is threatened by a nanny state that tells us what we can and cannot do. There’s a law for everything, new ones being written all the time from cell phone regulation to, most recently, talk of requiring school bus drivers to pass a physical fitness test. How absurd.

There are many who hope Maine will return to its roots of rugged individualism. Instead, we see “softness” taking hold as many able-bodied or able-minded individuals live off welfare. Our schools are becoming costly mansions, with buildings and grounds befitting a king. We demand town services that all add up to big increases in property tax. Our bloated state government spends billions on useless programs while bloviating legislators compete for how many bills they can pass, as if quantity begets quality.

When we pine about Maine, we are really pining for Baxter State Park, where services are sparse but freedom and wilderness are real. Most Mainers will never visit the park, but they should – and bring a proverbial part of it home with them.

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