November 18, 2019

Baxter Park officials consider banned bikers > Park use panel to weigh request for access

AUGUSTA — A piece of correspondence from former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter has effectively barred motorcyclists from the great park that bears his name for 27 years.

But that long-held position could change if the Baxter State Park Authority approves a request for motorcycle access to the 200,000 acre recreation area from the United Bikers of Maine.

Following a presentation by UBM President Greig Perkins, the authority voted to forward the proposal to its Park Use Committee for review and recommendation.

Perkins was visibly elated.

“No one has said `no,’ ” he said. “Up to this point, the members of the authority that we’ve personally spoken with and the members of the park’s advisory panel that we’ve personally spoken with have all said things like `if they let snowmobiles in, they should let motorcycles in.’ That’s encouraging to me. At least it wasn’t a `no’ out of hand.”

While the biker association is not basing its request on the authority’s 12-year-old decision to lift the ban on snowmobiles within Baxter State Park, the two issues are clearly linked. The impact of snowmobiles on wildlife and habitat continues to spark debate over how the policy squares with Baxter’s desire to see the park left forever wild.

“Snowmobiles are a separate issue for us,” Perkins said. “But it’s important in that it establishes the precedent for changing the rules since Baxter didn’t want snowmobiles allowed originally.”

Apparently as recently as April 18, 1966, the governor was dead set against motorcycles. Susan J. Bell, director of the Maine Forest Service and newly elected chairwoman of the authority, made reference to that date when Baxter wrote a letter expressing his concern about motorcycles. Perkins said the philanthropist was more disturbed by the operators than the machines.

“There was this motorcycle club in the Millinocket area that he didn’t want using the park,” Perkins said. “He was afraid they were going to be running off the roads and that the motorcycles would be loud and obnoxious machines that would scare the birds and wildlife. But it’s obviously people that are the problem. They’re the ones who would ride the bikes and make the noise or do whatever.”

Maintaining that motorcycles would have no greater negative effect on the park than the use of any other motorized vehicle, Perkins claimed there were numerous layers of controls already in place to address negative effects.

The club president said his organization would not oppose limitations on the numbers of bikers allowed in the park at any given time. He added that the park’s registration policy and disturbance provisions also should resolve any problems resulting from too many two-wheeled visitors or noisy parties.

The vast majority of motorcyclists, he said, are by their very nature, outdoors people.

“They exist in the out-of-doors to a much greater extent than do most average people,” Perkins said. “For this reason, it is felt that the extension of park use privileges to motorcyclists will have no detrimental effects on the park itself or the surrounding areas.”

The bikers have been offered the opportunity to work with the Park Use Committee in an attempt to resolve problem issues in connection with their request. Should the measure ultimately be approved, even Perkins had to admit it would be “scary” to envision an army of up to 1,000 motorcyclists converging on the park in the same way bikers annually trek to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

“But the rules and regulations that are in effect in the park right now would take care of that,” he said. “We have to come up with a cooperative means to regulate our request without it costing the state anything (for extras like increased security).”

In other business, the authority:

Closed on the transfer of a deed from the Georgia-Pacific Corp. to 495 acres surrounding Upper and Lower Togue Ponds in Piscataquis County. The authority’s $200,000 purchase includes 7.5 miles of shore frontage and increases the park’s official size to 202,064 acres.

Presented a plaque of appreciation to William J. Vail, former commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Vail’s resignation from the department last month resulted in his de facto withdrawal from membership on the three-member Baxter State Park Authority. The authority now consists of Bell, Norman E. Trask, acting commissioner of fish and wildlife, and Michael E. Carpenter, state attorney general.

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