Janet Mills Captured My Baxter Park

As Maine’s Attorney General, Janet Mills has been a member of the Baxter State Park Authority , along with Doug Denico, State Forest Service Director, and Chandler Woodcock, Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner. In 2016 Janet Mills wrote a very thoughtful piece about Baxter Park, capturing the park that I love.

Linda and I just returned from our camp on Nesourdnahunk Lake just outside the western boundary of Baxter Park. If you go out into the backyard of our camp you’re in the park and over the years we have spent a lot of time enjoying the park, from its mountains to its cold brooks full of trout.

Today I want to share Janet’s column with you. Here it is.

I have been thinking about the early Native Americans in their reverence for Pamola and the mountain which they named “Ktaadn.” I’ve been thinking too about Henry David Thoreau’s visits to Katahdin and Governor Baxter’s enormous love for this pristine area. What did they find here? Why did they love it? What did they command us to preserve about it?

I think it was here that they found peace. And it is peace they expected us to preserve – peace for ourselves, peace for the wildlife who make this their home. They expected people who come here to do so with that same reverence, with a longing for peace.

This is why we don’t have fishing derbies, or 5K races, or marathon runs along the Tote Road, or big bonfires with high-pitched songs, or fireworks on the Fourth of July. The park is its own quiet celebration. Its meaning lies in its quietude, in its broad spaces, in its deep peace.

That is a tough concept for the culture of today, when people of all ages are bombarded with bits and gigabits of information every second of our lives; when music, news and the clutter of conversation confuse our minds, making us feel as dizzy as fireflies on a dark starry night, Some days peace is almost impossible to find.

This Park is an escape from all of that, a place of respite and repair. We love it in its human silence – only the wind to cheer you on or to challenge you at the summit, only the rush of water to comfort you in the stream, only the stare of a curious moose to give you all the conversation you need.

Here isolation is a virtue, almost a prerequisite at times. The founders and heroes of this park envisioned contemplative walks, hikes and climbs by individuals, fishing alone on small lakes and big streams, not among clingy crowds of tourists and onlookers. The park is uniquely non-commercial.

The mountain doesn’t need a play date with you. It wants you to explore on your own, without appointment or celebration; the goal is not the summit but the getting there. You do not conquer it; it accepts you.

That is why we continue to say, the park represents a different culture, a different psyche than the national park phenomenon, different from other places of cultural refuge. It is a place with a different mission, different values. It is not for everyone. We do not invite groups and crowds, posses of civilization through the open gate and along the rough marked trails.

The park is a place in my mind where I can go on a deep winter’s night, a picture in my soul, a thing I know will always be there, no matter how strange the storm, how wild the wind, how far the ride, how tough the seasons of a life.

It is our duty to honor it, to preserve it.


For sure, Janet captured the Baxter Park my family has treasured for more than 30 years.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.