A Man and a Mountain
Join Alex Mas of The Nature Conservancy for a trip up Mount Katahdin and a look at the life and legacy of Governor Percival Baxter.
Percival Proctor Baxter (November 22, 1876 – June 12, 1969) was the 53rd Governor of Maine who served from 1921 to 1925.
Baxter was born into a wealthy family in Portland, where his father James Phinney Baxter served six terms as mayor and made his fortune in the canning industry. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1898 and earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1901. He went into the family real estate business in Portland and was chosen to inherit the bulk of the family fortune.
After serving in Maine’s legislature between 1909 and 1921, twice as a state senator and once as a state representative, Baxter became Governor in 1921. He succeeded the governorship upon the death of Governor Frederic H. Parkhurst and was then elected to one term. In 1924 he decided not to run again for Governor, and a 1926 unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid ended his political career.
Philanthropy occupied most of the remainder of his life. He died at age 92 in Portland, in 1969.
Baxter’s legacy will forever be defined by the protection of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak, and the creation of Baxter State Park. Baxter began a campaign to make Katahdin a state park during his political career. In a 1921 speech about the creation of a park, he said:
“Maine is famous for its twenty-five hundred miles of seacoast, with its countless islands; for its myriad lakes and ponds; and for its forests and rivers. But Mount Katahdin Park will be the state’s crowning glory, a worthy memorial to commemorate the end of the first and the beginning of the second century of Maine’s statehood. This park will prove a blessing to those who follow us, and they will see that we built for them more wisely than our forefathers did for us.”
Baxter was unable to inspire the political momentum necessary to create a park around Katahdin. So, in an act of historic generosity, he created the park himself. He made his first purchase—of 6,000 acres around the mountain—in 1930, and deeded the land to the state with the condition it be kept forever wild.
Over the years, Governor Baxter purchased additional lands and pieced his park together, making his final purchase in 1962. Since then, additional purchases and land gifts have increased the park's total size to 209,501 acres. The park encompasses 46 mountains, 175 miles of trails and a variety of camping experiences.
Through the Katahdin Forest Project in 2002, the Conservancy and the former Great Northern Paper Company entered into an innovative agreement to protect more than 240,000 acres of forest land around Maine's Mount Katahdin. This project limited development while allowing the land to be managed for forest products and preserving spectacular views from atop Mount Katahdin.
As part of the project, Great Northern Paper transferred 46,000 acres in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area to The Nature Conservancy to be managed as ecological reserves. Great Northern Paper also placed a conservation easement on 195,000 acres of forest land along Baxter State Park’s western and southern boundaries, which guarantees public access, traditional recreational uses, sustainable forestry and no future development.
This partnership preserved biodiversity and working forests in one of the most beautiful and ecologically important stretches of the 31 million-acre Northern Forest.February 22, 2011