Baxter Start Park, a Maine treasure

Baxter State Park: A Blend of Beauty and History for the Next Generation

Baxter State Park: A Blend of Beauty and History for the Next Generation

By Cathy Genthner

Baxter Start Park, a Maine treasure

Baxter Start Park, a Maine treasure. Photo: Cathy Genthner

New England naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau was as drawn to the majestic Mount Katahdin as are the clouds that cling to its cliffs and Baxter Peak.  Thoreau wrote about the mountain in his books and letters to friends, not being able to get enough of it with his eyes alone. It is Katahdin- which in Abenaki means “Greatest Mountain” – that draws and seduces visitors to its shadow and summit every year.  Baxter State Park, consisting of over 209,000 acres attracts roughly 65,000 visitors a year.  Jean Hoekwater is one of those who call the park home.  She has been working as the park naturalist since 1988.  It was love at first hike.

“I fell in love with the park the first time I hiked as a college student in 1976. Those of us who are lucky enough to call this our job stay here because we all share a passion for the land and the inhabitants of the park and like to share that with the visitors,” said Hoekwater.  “I still remain grateful for the wisdom and generosity of Percival Baxter, and everyone along the way who has protected the park so it is here today for future generations.”

Governor Percival Baxter acquired the land that makes up Baxter State Park over a period of more than thirty years, beginning in 1931 with his first acquisition and his last in 1962 when he was 87 years old.  It was described as “Baxter’s Magnificent Obsession” in which he dedicated most of his life to protecting a large tract of Maine wilderness.  Back then, many people thought he was crazy to want to protect thousands of undeveloped acres. Today, he is hailed as a visionary.


Baxter State Park is a hiking mecca!

Baxter State Park is a hiking mecca! Photo: Cathy Genthner

 What’s New at the Park

Park rangers and staff have been working on ways in which more people can get out and explore the wildness of the park – even those who are new to camping.  Each of the eight roadside campgrounds have naturalist adventure packs available that are loaned out to families for the day, free of charge. The backpacks contain nature guides, binoculars, a journal and suggestions for activities in the outdoors as well as safety items such as a flashlight, whistle, first aid kit, map and compass. Those who utilize the packs are expected to bring add their own water, food and outer gear.

“The packs are a fun way for families to begin exploring in nature together if they are new to hiking and camping,” said Hoekwater. “Novice campers should keep in mind that Katahdin is only one of the many peaks in the park.  There are hikes for every level of ability.  We recommend that you build your endurance and judgment by hiking some smaller but still worthwhile peaks.  In addition to mountains, many people enjoy visiting our waterfalls.”

Baxter’s eight roadside campgrounds also include walk-in sites, where campers can experience the feel of a backcountry site only a short distance from a main campground. The walk-in sites are great preparation for camping at a backcountry site such as Katahdin Lake (mentioned above), Russell or Kidney Pond campsites or at any of the nearly three dozen backcountry sites sprinkled throughout the park in scenic locations. Most campgrounds and even some backcountry sites – depending on where they are located – feature canoe rentals for only $1 an hour, complete with paddles and lifejackets.

It has also become easier (at least when it comes to planning and parking) for those who wish to take on the ultimate challenge – climbing Mount Katahdin.  There is day-use parking reservation for Katahdin trailheads. Hikers can visit the park website and check out this process where they are guaranteed a parking spot at a Katahdin trailhead in advance of their hiking day. This process eliminates the guesswork of planning a day trip to hike Katahdin and has proven to be very popular since it was started just a few years ago.

For more information including camping, hiking and overnight accomodations, visit:

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