If you are thru hiking this year, you probably heard about the new regulations at Baxter State Park in Maine. There is a limited amount of permits for thru hikers this year. I have gotten several questions about why there are permits and what can be done if you don’t get a permit in time. This post is hopefully going to help answer some of your questions about what is going on up in Maine.
History of Baxter State Park
Percival Baxter is the man responsible for the creation of the park. He first gazed upon Katahdin on a fishing trip with his father in 1903. In 1909 he began a political career and started advocating for the creation of Mountain Katahdin State Park and also summited the mountain for the first time with a group of politicians. When his father passed in 1921 it really spurred Percival’s intentions of creating the park. In a speech he gave he said,
“Mountain 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.”
The state did not decide to purchase the area surrounding Katahdin so Percival took it in to his own hands and decided to purchase the area himself. The Great Northern Paper Company owned the land, and after the economic crash in 1929 they were willing to sell the land for cheap. Percival bought 6,000 acres for $25,000 and immediately gifted the park to the people of Maine. In 1931, the park was created and named Baxter State Park. Baxter did not trust the federal government so he put many provisions on the park to prevent it from becoming a national park. The Baxter State Park Authority is a separate governing body that oversees the administration and maintenance of the park. When Baxter died in 1969 his ashes were scattered in the park and he donated 28 deeds and $7 million dollars to the park.
Baxter State Park Today
Baxter State Park is over 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest. The park remains in a rustic state to preserve the forest. There are a few campgrounds but the roads are unpaved, there are a few outhouses, and no running water. Many people come here to enjoy the wilderness and get away from society. Vacationers mainly visit this park but there is a fair amount of thru hikers. What we know the park for is Mount Katahdin. Mount Katahdin serves as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Just two years after the park was made, Myron Avery established the summit of Katahdin to be the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Each day, there is a limited amount of day hiking permits for Mount Katahdin. While this can be regulated, the thru hikers have not been regulated. The increasing amount of thru hikers has caused more people to climb Katahdin every day. Baxter State Park decided to regulated this by making a thru hiker permit for the park.
Thru hiker permits in Baxter
Use of the Park by AT long-distance hikers has increased an average of 9% annually over the past 25 years. In 1991, the total number of recorded AT long-distance hikers in Baxter State Park was 359. In 2016, 2,733 AT long-distance hikers registered in the Park, an increase of more than 700% from 1991. Even in the last year (2016), 23% more AT hikers registered in the Park than in 2015. Since there have been no limitations placed on thru hikers in the past, the Baxter State Authority decided it was time to include the thru hikers in the same model respected by all Katahdin hikers. The permits will need to be acquired at Katahdin Steam Campground in person when they arrive to climb Katahdin. The permits are free and they have arranged numbers of permits for each thru hikers category as follows:
1. NOBO – 1,350
2. SOBO – 610
3. Section – 840
4. Flip Flop – 350
This is a total of 3,150 permits total, this is 417 more permits than were issued last year for expected increase of hikers.
What do I do if I don’t get a permit?
Do not fret! It is still possible to hike the mountain without a thru hiker permit. The numbers were inflated by over 20% to hopefully ensure that all thru hikers can obtain a permit. If there are more hikers than expected this year and you do not get there in time to get a permit of your own, you can still hike the mountain. The Long Distance Hiking Campsite will be closed, but you can go to town and follow the same protocols as a day hiker would.
Katahdin is a strenuous hike and Baxter State Park has done an excellent job providing Rangers to monitor who is on the trail. I would not suggest trying to hike the mountain without a permit as there will be fines and you will likely get caught by one of these rangers.
These rules were not made to punish thru hikers, but to help protect the park and the visitor experience. Please respect these rules and do not worry, there should be plenty of permits and if not, you can still hike Katahdin!