Forever Wild

DSC_0049We’re at a cabin on Daicey Pond in Baxter State Park with the perfect view of Katahdin, the highest point in Maine at 5270 feet. Katahdin was named by the Penobscot Nation and it translates to “The Greatest Mountain.” It towers over its neighbors, and on a clear day you can even see it from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia (some 100+ miles to the east).

We’ve found good hiking, good paddling, and good opportunities to relax in the cool mountain weather (lows in the upper 30s last night). We’ve also taken the time to cook up some of our favorite dishes. Over the past three days, we’ve had baked brie, french fries, nachos, antipasto, fresh baked bread, chocolate chip cookies, caprese, and sweet rolls, along with a nice deep dish pizza.

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The park is very remote and rugged, and it comes with an interesting history. It was a gift to the people of Maine from former Governor Percival Baxter, who donated the original 200,000+ acres over about a 30 year period ending in 1962. As “co-owners,” Maine residents don’t have to pay the $14 admission to access the park. Once inside, there is no electricity and no running water, and there are no paved roads–only a single 13 foot wide gravel road, the Tote Road, for the majority of access. The park’s motto is “Forever Wild,” and it certainly is.

While Baxter is far from population centers, it’s still surprising to me that it only saw 63,000 visitors last year. In contrast, Great Falls Park in Virginia is 250 times smaller and draws 10 times the visitors. Crowds are relative, I suppose.

DSC_0885The cabins at Daicey Pond date back to 1902, and its easy to feel Daicey 1931 Charlotte Millettlost in time here. Our cabin has just a wall-mounted propane light, two twin beds, a table, a wood stove, and a few wooden chairs. Down at the dock, there is an honor system for canoe and kayak rentals ($1 an hour), and there is an always-open library full of interesting books. Add in friendly rangers, a nice network of hiking trails, loons, deer, and moose, and you’ve got something worth trying to keep the same.

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Perhaps best of all, the mountain is visible from most anywhere, seemingly watching over the handful of visitors that make it up here. Percival Baxter had this to say about Katahdin: “buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes, but Katahdin, in all its glory, shall forever remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”

Oh, and one other thing about Katahdin: it’s officially named Mount Katahdin, but that literally translates to “Mount Greatest Mountain.” Naturally, everyone just calls it Katahdin, as Mainers are way too smart to be redundant—unlike, say, whoever named “Panera Bread.” Along those lines, maybe I should open up a “Vino Wine” concession at the summit of the highest point of Mount Katahdin?

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Park Here?

millinocketOn the way to Baxter State Park in northern Maine, we stayed over in Millinocket, a town of about 4500 about an hour north of Bangor. Millinocket is adjacent to Aroostook County, one of the more rural IMG_1721areas I’ve seen in the east. “The county,” as it’s known to just about anybody in Maine, has a few smaller towns, like Presque Isle and Caribou, but mostly it’s potato farms and really thick woods.

Back to Millinocket, there are some fun outdoor-oriented businesses here, with the Appalachian Trail Café leading the list. Breakfast was solid, service was good, and the place has a few interesting traditions. First, they offer the Summit Sundae Challenge, which is 14 scoops of ice cream (one for each state the AT passes through) along with snickers, M&Ms, and a doughnut. If you eat it all by yourself, you get to write your name on a pole by the cash register, presumably while you wait for CPR to start. Second, AT through-hikers get the honor of signing one of many now-colorful acoustic ceiling tiles that dot the restaurant. We only did a portion of the AT and not the whole 2180 miles, so we just signed the bathroom wall. That’s appropriate, right?

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Great_Northern_Paper_Company_Mill,_Millinocket,_METhe outdoor tourism businesses in Millinocket seem to be doing ok, but the mill closed in 2008 and now there are a lot of vacant storefronts. One idea to jumpstart the economy is a proposal to create a new national park that adjoins Baxter State Park using land donated by a wealthy local philanthropist. It is the hot topic in town, and everyone has an opinion, from the cashier at Hanneford’s to the wait staff at the Scootic Inn (which, by the way, was excellent for dinner). The campaign is in full swing and there are signs everywhere that say “National Park Yes!” and “National Park No!”

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So far, we’ve yet to meet anybody who supports the idea, even as they puzzle over what else could help to revive the local economy. One ranger in Baxter said to us “Why would someone even come to a Northwoods National Park? It’s not like there’s a Rushmore up here.”

One other observation: just about everything around that is not named Baxter is named Penobscot. That includes streets, rivers, lakes, bays, bridges, counties, you name it (well, actually, somebody already did). I was certain that the name inspiration was from a recurring character on the old TV show M*A*S*H, but Souzz explained that it’s from the Penobscot Nation, which has a long and storied history in the region. I have to buy Souzz a beer whenever she’s right, so I brought along a case.