Volume I - No. 3
KATAHDIN, SENTINEL OF THE NORTH WOODS
By V. R. Ludgate
The introduction of H. R. 6599 into the 75th Congress by Congressman Ralph O. Brewster culminated a long anticipated movement to make the region adjacent to Mt. Katahdin in Maine a part of the National Park System.
The Katahdin area is situated approximately in the center of the State of Maine at the edge of a roadless area which extends north of Millinocket, the nearest town of any size. It is accessible by road from the towns of Millinocket, Greenville and Sherman, the road from Greenville being in part a private route owned by the Great Northern Paper Company, and the road from Sherman a crude macadam road constructed in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps, The nearest approach by rail is from Sherman, on the Bangor and Aroostook Railway.
Lakes Katahdin and Nesowadnehung are available as landing ports from the air. Other lakes in the area are probably adequate for this function, but it is not possible to determine their status at this time.
The east and west branches of the Penobscot were used in early colonial days as the route of travel between the St. Lawrence and the settlements, English and French, on the sea coast. The east branch is at present known as the wildest canoe cruise in the state.
The area as proposed and outlined within the boundaries prescribed embraces approximately 459 square miles or 293,760 acres of land, and about 21 square miles or 13,440 acres of lakes and streams, making a total area of 307,200 acres or 480 square miles.
Snows descend regularly on Katahdin in September and normally the mountain is blanketed on the following month. This snow lingers late into the following spring, and in some years into early July. Approximately four feet of snow remains on the level ground throughout the winter with an average of temperature of 8 to 10 degrees below zero.
The area experiences hot weather in July and August. The July average maximum ranges from 80 to 90 degrees with a general prevailing temperature of 70 degrees.
The Indians of the Northeast held these high regions in awe, and Pamola, the deity of the mountain is the subject of many extremely interesting legends. The area further presents a composite picture of the most characteristic features of the Maine woods and its, lumbering operations with attendant features, all of which have developed a Maine folklore interesting to many historians. Visitors to Katahdin have formed a distinguished list - Henry D. Thoreau, Edward Everett Hale, Thomas W. Nigginson, Theodore Winthrop, Frederick E. Church, C. E. Hamlin, and many other renowned authors and scientists.
Katahdin, probably the outstanding mountain in the East, is a mass of granite, rising in the wilderness a mile in height. Its extraordinary geological formations, its caribou range and its artic flora have attracted nation-wide attention. With the possible exception of Mt. Washington, there is no other peak in the Eastern Atlantic States which is better or more favorably known. The Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire has higher peaks than Katahdin, but is so harnessed in a network of roads as to lose much of its wilderness quality. Geologically, the mountain itself is of extreme interest.
The flora may be said to constitute an Arctic island, a relic of the vegetation which followed the retreating glacier back northwards. The names of the plants found on the summit are those now found in Greenland and Northern Labrador.
The area has a wide variety of the larger animals. Investigation may reveal that the woodland caribou, which disappeared from the area within the last 25 years, may still find sanctuary on Mt. Katahdin.
Paul Riis, in a most excellent series of articles in Parks and Recreation, June, July, August and September, 1938, "aims to stimulate further efforts to preserve for the United States, at least one small remnant of an interesting faunal form typical of the rigorous conditions of our northern boundary states, in which it once roamed and lived." Mr. Riis, does not point to the possibilities of reestablishing a caribou herd in a Mount Katahdin National Park but he has, prepared the following interesting summary of observations made on caribou in Maine:
"In early times caribou seem to have been fairly common in northern Maine and the rather extensive barrens on Mt. Katahdin. Being a sedentary animal and unusually unsuspicious they were much reduced in numbers and extirpated over much of the State. At times small herds have wandered in from the adjoining parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and have led many to suppose that the animal was about to become common again. This is, of course, impossible under present conditions, since caribou are no longer abundant enough in this section to encourage any such notion.
"Stupka, in a very recent interview with John Cushman, an old time market hunter, who knew the Mt. Katahdin region better than any other white man, in October, 1894, saw a herd of 68 caribou on the Katahdin tableland, which remained there until the disappearance of snow late the following spring. The last herd Cushman saw was one of 20 to 25 head in 1906.
"Stupka also gives a late sight record of caribou for Maine in 1913 by Leon Price of Monmouth, Me., and Minot Curtis, warden for the Eagle Lake Station in the extreme north of Maine. These two men came upon a lone caribou lying down on the east shore of Eagle Lake near Otter Pond, which rose as they approached it within 50 yards. The men commented upon the large tracks the animal left and the flying mud as it ran away.
"Seton gives a record of the last caribou seen in Maine by two Philadelphia sportsmen, of four bulls and seven cows on Mt. Katahdin in 1914."
Moose, deer and bear still are abundant in the Mt. Katahdin region as are many of the smaller fur-bearing animals. The numerous ponds, rivers and cold mountain brooks furnish fishing. Salmon, pickerel, lake trout, black bass, brook trout and white perch can be found in varying degrees of abundance.
Within a 200-mile road distance the human population numbers only 689,841, and yet the area attracted over 10,000 visitors last summer. This figure undoubtedly will increase tremendously with more protection from despoliation, with development of proper accommodations, for travellers and with the nation-wide prestige attached as a part of the National Park System.
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