Mount Katahdin looms in the background as children play on a raft at New England Outdoor Center, situated on Millinocket Lake, in August. DEREK DAVIS/Portland Press Herald

Maine’s highest and best known mountain could be in line for a name change if the head of Baxter State Park gets his way.

Eben Sypitkowski, director of the Baxter State Park Authority, has proposed dropping the name “Mount” from Mount Katahdin, he confirmed Thursday in a telephone interview.

Sypitkowski believes the name change is long overdue. The mountain was named Katahdin by the Penobscot tribe, and it remained that way until the federal government added “Mount” and made that its official name in 1893.

Katahdin is a Penobscot word that means “Greatest Mountain.” In addition to serving as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the 5,267-foot mountain is the centerpiece of the 209,501-acre Baxter State Park. Several challenging hiking trails lead to Katahdin’s Baxter Peak, the taller of the two that make up the mountain – the other is Hamlin. The first recorded ascent of Mount Katahdin took place in 1804.

Dropping Mount from Katahdin would be more respectful of the Native American name, and would avoid redundancy. The mountain’s current name essentially translates to “Mount Greatest Mountain,” Sypitkowski said.

“I think the idea of changing the name would do no harm to anyone and it would benefit many,” he said. “I’m putting this out there to see if the time is right for a change.”

James Francis, director of the Penobscot Nation’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Department, said he supports the change.

“Returning the name to its rightful origins is a good thing,” Francis said Thursday evening. “We’ve always called it Katahdin. To put Mount in front of it is like apples and oranges. It’s redundant.”

Sypitkowski will present his proposal to the Baxter State Park Authority at its Oct. 4 meeting at Kidney Pond in the park. If the directors approve, he plans to invite the public to an informational meeting in Augusta on Dec. 8. Aaron M. Frey, Maine’s attorney general; Judy Camuso, commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; and Patty Cormier, director of the Maine Forest Service make up the authority’s governing body.

The idea would then be presented to the U.S. Geological Survey’s  U.S. Board on Geographic Names for final approval. The USGS could also decide to get the Maine Legislature involved in making the final decision.

The Legislature would have to approve any change to the name of the township where the mountain is located – Mount Katahdin Township – according to Sypitkowski.

He has already begun reaching out to stakeholders.

Earlier this week, he sent an email to the Piscataquis County Commissioners suggesting that the mountain’s name be changed. Mount Katahdin is in Piscataquis County.

His proposal was met with skepticism.

Chairman James White said the commissioners aren’t convinced the change is necessary – especially considering the cost of changing maps and signs.

“My thoughts are it has been close to 200 years on our maps,” White said. “It has been Mount Katahdin and it’s just now we’re hearing about people being offended? It’s going to be an expense to do all of this and it’s going to be decades before this is changed.”

White said the Katahdin proposal is different than renaming Big Squaw Mountain, which is now called Big Moose Mountain. In that case, the term “squaw” was offensive to Native Americans and there was widespread support for the name change.

“If someone presents us with actual evidence of a need, then we’ll revisit the situation,” White said. “But I don’t think it’ll go anywhere.”

Sypitkowski took over as director of Baxter State Park in 2018. He is a Bangor native and graduate of Bates College in Lewiston.

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