Changing of the guard and restore art at the park
Director of Baxter State Park, Jensen Bissell announced his retirement plans for the end of December, during last October’s annual end of season staff meeting. As a former, artist in residence at Baxter State Park, I am grateful to Mr. Bissell for “hiring” me for the creative opportunity. The unpaid position of Artist at BSP effectively launched my professional painting career. I deeply appreciate the experience as I was following in the footsteps of many great artists who have sketched and painted Katahdin throughout the centuries, such as, Frederick E. Church, and Marsden Hartley. I had great exposures hiking, painting and interacting with rangers and campers; the memories will last a lifetime. But, through my ten days at Daicey as the artist and four years since, I have never personally met the man. I only spoke with him over the telephone and communicated via emails. Mr. Bissell did come to my cabin, (I shared with the rangers’ office,once) but, I had already left for the day plein air painting. Still, I witnessed the results of Mr. Bissell’s policies and actions because I hiked the trails, and painted around campgrounds and also heard comments. Unfortunately, this year BSP had no artist in residence. The future of the art program is unknown.
Listen to the elves
Jensen Bissell’s twelve year tenure was viewed as both positive and negative by folks inside and outside the park organization. Bissell says in the Down East Magazine article, October 2017, his directorship was based on Governor Percival Baxter’s “forever wild” proclamation. But, Bissell was both praised and criticized by his intolerance of photos and champagne celebration of the AT hiker breaking a speed record at Baxter Peak. Yes, it is Bissell’s job to protect “forever wild” theory. I think we can all assume Percival Baxter would not be popping wine corks and filming himself at “Monument Peak”, ever. Conversely, after climbing Roaring Brook trail to Chimney Pond, I couldn’t see the water arriving at the Basin. I was stunned to see a wooden pergola with picnic tables. This is not the way Chimney Pond looked when I was a child or when Baxter was alive! “Reforestation” was the word the tall ranger used, and jokingly said, “we take the pond in during the day”. Everyone used to see the pond from the trail. Now, it is hidden by man-made structures. Parts of the basin look like a rest stop near LL Bean.
No new Sleigh roads
But, what about roads and campgrounds in the park? In the book “Legacy of A Lifetime, The Story of Baxter State Park” by Dr. John W. Hakola, Percival Baxter’s acquisition of the two private sporting camps of Kidney Pond and York Twin Pines, (now Daicey Pond campground,) are delineated. This is where “forever wild” gets blurred. Roads were viewed negatively by Baxter, (pg 109), “I seek to provide against commercial exploitation, against hunting, trapping, and killing, against lumbering, hotels, advertising, hot-dog stands, motor vehicles, horse drawn vehicles, and other vehicles, air-craft, and the trappings of civilization.” Still, new roads have been built around campgrounds for BSP trucks to service outhouses. Bicycles are used on narrow dirt roads. Rangers see the discrepancy with Baxter’s theories. But, Jensen Bissell approved these new roads. Was it because Baxter’s wishes included purchasing and running sport camps inside the park?
Do not tear down Lincoln logs or build up with Legos
The park authority “took over” Kidney Pond Camps January 1st, 1971 when the lease ended as Percival Baxter had formally offered his intent on the property before he died in 1967. Accordingly, it stands to reason, campgrounds are not wilderness, yet, they are part of BSP. Campgrounds should be maintained for public safety. Still, there are mixed messages everywhere. For example, at Kidney Pond, Jensen Bissell authorized for the original ranger’s cabin, built in the late 1920s, to be torn down instead of repaired. It had housed rangers and their office with a screened porch for decades. The cabin was truly an historic gem that had been lovingly cared for, repaired, and renovated throughout the years. Suddenly, the mandate came down to the rangers this summer: start preparations to move, the cabin will be destroyed October 2017. It will be replaced with a new cedar log cabin kit, 1/4 of the size. Luckily, I was there at Kidney Pond in September with two artist friends. I spent two days painting the portrait of the beloved rangers’ cabin. Every camper that came by during those days, expressed dismay at Bissell’s decision to destroy “their” cabin. For decades campers stood on the planks of the cabin’s porch while the family “checked into” the campground. Dean Levasseur had crafted the paddle railings by hand. But now it is a pile of logs and rubble under the snow.
Christmas gift for BSP
The people who are in the trenches, namely the rangers who take care of the park and her visitors are THE most knowledgeable of the day-to-day management of Baxter State Park. The elves are hopeful that their opinions will be heard in the future. Rangers want what most visitors want. They want what Percival Baxter wanted or exemplified while he was alive. They want such things as preservation of historic cabins; trails without switch-backs; the ability to cut trees and high grass around campgrounds to reduce tick exposure and to increase the beauty of the area. They want cabin logs and wooden docks to be replaced. Some rangers think that blow downs should be utilized for camp fires, instead of paying thousands of dollars for firewood bought from outside the park. They have many efficient ideas and savings for the betterment of all who live and stay in Baxter State Park. Most of all, they want to be heard.
“Please Santa bring Maine a new BSP director who listens and loves the area as much as the rangers and I do. We have been good all year! Thank you for reading my blog and please “like” and “share”. PS. I made prints of the “Gone but Not Forgotten Kidney Pond Ranger’s Cabin”. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org ”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Teddi-Jann Covell