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Governor Baxter Day: Bangor to Katahdin

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Celebrate the legacy of the wilderness and the people

Man is born to die, his works are short lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.

-Gov. Percival Proctor Baxter

BANGOR - If you walk around Bangor today you might not guess, but around the turn of the century it ranked as one of the three most important cities in the United States the other contenders being New York and San Francisco. The history of the Queen City is inexorably tied to the lumber harvested from the heart of the Katahdin region and along the banks of the west branch of the Penobscot.

Around town artifacts and monuments remain as testaments to a different time. Those boom times from the lumber days are gone, but the spirit that made Bangor a great city lives on, and much-needed revitalization has come. Art and music and movies bring scores of people together. Wednesday, July 24, Friends of Baxter State Park aim to bring together the citizens of Bangor and surrounding communities in celebrating the connection between the city and the northern wilderness, all in the name of the man whose hard-work preserved our most important region and mountain: Percival Proctor Baxter.

A man of vision

Unlike other politicians, Percival Proctor Baxter possessed a propensity for foresight. And for the people of Maine, the land was the legacy and the heritage. Generations had been shaped by it and would continue to be. Charged with a desire to protect this heritage, Baxter established his legacy for the people of Maine: Baxter State Park.

Born Nov. 22, 1876, Baxter came into a family involved with local politics. He went on to graduate from Bowdoin College and later Harvard University. Between 1909 and 1921 he served in the Maine State Senate and House of Representatives. Then in 1921 he became Maine's 53rd governor. During his time in office, he campaigned for the creation of a wilderness park, as well as fiercely opposing Klan activity in Maine.

Like most Mainers, Baxter loved the wilderness - the cragged shores, deep forests and miles of snaking rivers. In the 1920s and 1930s he began collecting parcels of land in effort to secure a future wilderness park. He continued to do so up to his death in 1969. Much of the land was purchased with his vast inheritance, and in turn he deeded the land back to the state with the promise that it 'shall forever be used for public park and recreational purposes, shall be forever left in the natural wild state, shall forever be kept as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds, that no road or ways for motor vehicles shall hereafter ever be constructed thereon or therein.' In 1931 the park around Katahdin became known as Baxter State Park. At the time of his death, Baxter State Park consisted of 201,018 acres. New donations around Katahdin Lake continue to allow the park to grow.

Baxter had a great vision to create a park, a monument to the state - something to hand down generation to generation, ensuring that Baxter State Park would 'prove a blessing to those who follow us, and that they will see we built for them more wisely than our fore-fathers did for us.'

A day in his honor

Last year Governor Baxter Day was held in Portland. Friends of Baxter State Park and other enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 28th parcel of land acquired by Percival Proctor Baxter, thus fulfilling the promise of creating a park in excess of 200,000 acres with a sum total of 201,018 acres. This year the Friends gather to celebrate the connection between Bangor and the Katahdin region, a bond forged both in commerce and culture.

Henry David Thoreau journeyed into the Katahdin region on three occasions: in 1846, 1853 and 1857, each time passing through Bangor. Never once did the importance of the city fall to the wayside. Then, even as now, it was one of the last points before passing into the wild country. 

Since July 1, the Friends have held photo and art contests, generating buzz for the forthcoming events. Entries for the Photo Contest: Baxter State Park, Native Maine Plants, and Wild Bangor are on display at Epic Sports, 6 Central Street, and will be until July 23. Brushstrokes for Botany a collection of paintings depicting the Katahdin region will be holding an online auction until July 23. Anyone interested in bidding can visit www.32auction.com/brushstrokesforbotany.

The day-long celebration provides fun for all. Guided tours present an opportunity to experience wild Bangor, as well as to explore important historical sites. Talks and presentations highlight the connection between the land, the people and art. Many of the events are free.

Itinerary

7 to 8:30 a.m.: Bird walk at the Orono Bog Boardwalk. Participants meet at Tripp Drive in the Rolland F. Perry City Forest, off Stillwater Avenue. The guided walk follows the boardwalk to observe the different species of birds that call the forest and bog home. This event is free and open to the public.

9 to 10:30 a.m.: Hike for Families led by Fields Pond Audubon Society. Participants meet at the Gateway Park on Valley Avenue and will be guided along the Kenduskeag Stream. This event is free and open to the public.

8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: There will be a Plein Air Paint Out all along the Kenduskeag Stream. Featured will be Baxter State Park Visiting Artists. Participation in the paint out is juried and with the results featured at an auction later in the day.

10 to 11:30 a.m.: A walking tour of historical Bangor. Join Dana Lippett in experiencing the history embedded into the streets and faces of Bangor's buildings. Site of many prominent people and events, see where history has been made including the location of the infamous 1937 gunfight between public enemy number one Al Brady and the F.B.I. Meet at the Bangor Waterfront at the Harbor Master's House, 64 Front Street. Tickets are $8.

11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Donn Fendler, author of 'Lost on a Mountain in Maine,' will be giving a talk. In 1939 at the age of 12 while hiking Katahdin, he became lost and spent nine days alone in the wilderness without food, water and adequate shelter. The search for him became front page news across the nation. On the ninth day he was rescued near Stacyville. The event is hosted by the Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow Street. The event is free and open to the public.

12 to 1:30 p.m.: David Little, author of 'Art of Katahdin,' will give a talk about the relationship between the Katahdin region and the art world. His book published earlier this year explores the art tradition that has been born over the last hundred years around Katahdin. Many prominent artists have featured the mountain in their work, including Marsden Hartley, Frederic Church and John Marin. The event will be hosted by the Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow Street. It will be a brown bag lunch affair. The event is free and open to the public.

1:30 p.m.: Docent-led tour of the University of Maine Museum of Art. Come see the new exhibition as well as selections from the permanent collection on display. Meet at the gallery on 40 Harlow Street. The event is free and open to the public.

3 to 7 p.m.: The day's events culminate in the Top of Bangor Tour, with a visit to the Thomas Hill Standpipe and the historic 1857 house tour. Additionally there will be programs with a reception, music and food. A live wet paint auction from the Plein Air Paint Out will be held and the winning photos from the Photo Contest will be available. Viewing begins at 5pm. Meet at the Joseph Low House, 51 Thomas Hill Road. Tickets are $25.

For more information, visit www.friendsofbaxter.org, or call (207) 542-5207. Tickets for Walking Tour of Historical Bangor can be purchased at www.visitbangormaine.com/baxter. Tickets for Top of Bangor Tour can be purchased at Epic Sports, 6 Central Street.

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