The Thin Green Line
By Andrew Vietze
Created Aug 8 2007 - 9:18pm
July 29, 2007
On one particular day last week a camper who hailed from the Catskills said to me: "The kind of people who come to Baxter aren't the kind of people who break the rules." He said this with a question mark at the end of the sentence, but it was apparent that he believed it. The next day a cop from southern New Hampshire said: "It used to be that the people who came to places like this came to appreciate it, and now you get all types." He told me he had seen the same thing at Lake Winnipesaukee. (I shuddered to even hear Baxter Park and the Granite State's famously overrun lake mentioned in the same breath.)
These sentiments resonated with me because I'd heard them a few times this season already. In the first few weeks of the camping year, a young woman from Hampden told me the same thing about Baxter campers being above causing trouble. This was after I asked her husband not to troll out on the pond. Which is illegal. They both proclaimed his innocence. She said he was "fly fishing," as if you couldn't troll with fly rod and reel. He said that he had a problem with his line. That's why he had twenty feet or so of line dragging along behind their canoe as she paddled. It's possible, I suppose.
And I wished I shared her faith in people.
But she was telling this to a ranger who had, in the first three weeks of the year, confiscated a BB gun, investigated the carving up of a rare and unique tree, repaired a kicked-in outhouse door, caught a kid walking around the campground with a flaming branch, caught people trying to angle in our fly-fishing-only pond with bobbers, picked up bags and bags worth of litter, told several campers that radios and DVD players were not allowed, pointed out to high-speed drivers that the speed limit on the park road is 20 miles per hour not forty. That was just in my campground, and in about twelve days' of work.
Most people who come here do appreciate that Baxter Park is a singular place, a rarified wilderness area with a set of rules that are unlike those of any other park or preserve. And a lot of these folks will actually read those rules, which they are handed as they pass through the front gate, and do their best to live by them, understanding that those very rules are what keep Baxter Park Baxter Park, preserving what is unique and amazing about it. There are the others, though, who think - because they don't honestly know better or because they don't honestly care - that the park is like any other state or national park. Where radios are allowed and where, as long as you don't hurt anyone, you can pretty much do what you want.
There's a whole 'nother group who stop and read our signs - I've seen this many times - and just walk or drive right past and ignore them, as if they were written for someone else or were to be obeyed when it was convenient. We have one such sign that says, "Welcome to Daicey Pond. Driving beyond this point is for campers only. Day users please park here." We have a very limited amount of parking in our campground, and if our spots are full simply turning around is difficult. So we ask people to walk 250 feet up a hill if they want to see the pond. This is too much for many, many people. We make allowances for people with disabilities, and even parties who want to drop off a canoe or a picnic. But still dozens of people will come driving up the hill, ignoring the rather large sign, and park in a spot clearly labeled Cabin 5 or Cabin 7 or Cabin 9. And I'll say, "Hey there, you folks checking in to Cabin 5?" And they'll inevitably say, "Oh, no, we're just going to be a moment to take a picture." And then I'll say, "Great. You're welcome to have a picnic, take out a boat, go for a hike, have a look around, but you're going to have to move your vehicle down to the Day-use area." Most of the time, they'll simply drive off rather than walk that 250 feet, and they generally give me a look that suggests that I'm the one causing the problem.
That's a simple and minor instance, but it happens several times daily. Unfortunately, there's no end to the infractions. I've caught people trying to set tents up in the big field down in our Day-Use area - in order to control erosion and environmental impact, we don't allow camping anywhere other than designated sites, a fact that's posted everywhere. I've had people attempting to sneak friends into cabins, being extremely drunk and screaming obscenities to their buddies out on the pond as my campers were trying to sleep, filling outhouses with trash, using bicycles on the trails, using motors on Daicey Pond, parking illegally on the road so they can climb the mountain despite the fact that it's been closed. I've had AT hikers refuse to pay, AT hikers that bring in a case of hard liquor to party at our long-distance hiking site, campers that cut a hole in a cabin door and carved "Peepshow" above it, drivers that flew past me on the park road at twice the speed limit. I've caught people bringing in their dog, seen big beautiful erratics covered in spray paint, and picked up the contents of ashtrays and innumerable beer cans in our parking area. Every day I clean our Day-Use lot, and every day I find enough trash to fill a small bag.
These are all things that occurred to me - when I was Katahdin Stream Campground and at my current post, Daicey Pond - each ranger has had to deal with similar stuff. Just last week I heard two park staffers talking about Webster Lake, a quiet, beautiful basin in the Scientific Forestry Management Area where we have a few remote campsites. Someone at HQ was asking the ranger who patrols the area to check on the sites because she'd gotten a report that someone had "sawed up" the outhouse and the picnic table.
It's not as though people don't know that all these things are against the rules at Baxter Park. There are signs all over the place - at headquarters, on the way in to the park, at the Visitor's Center, at the gate, and in campgrounds. And everyone is personally given a copy of our rules and regs as they come through the door. Of course, much of this stuff is common sense anyway.
Before I started working here I guess I believed as the woman from Hampden and the man from the Catskills do. I naturally assumed everyone else who came to the park had the same sort of reverential attitude toward it that I did. That it was a gift - an extraordinary gift - which was to be appreciated and taken care of. Quite aside from that I thought it deserved the utmost respect simply because it was one of the last bastions of wild in the country. But perhaps as the philosophic cop said, the rest of the world is catching up to Baxter Park. And it's up to us, the Thin Green Line, to borrow from a recent movie about park rangers, to educate them.
Andy Vietze is a Maine State Park Ranger and is stationed at Daicey Pond, Baxter State Park. He is also a contributing editor to Down East.