Nestled in the shadows east of Baxter State Park, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument has remained relatively wild since its designation by President Obama in 2016. Sparse infrastructure throughout the monument’s 87,500 acres, much of which once served the area’s logging industry, offers minimal support for outdoor recreation.
In order to make the monument more accessible to outdoor lovers, the National Park Service has contracted AMC to build a series of hiking trails, each about 1 to 2 miles out from the main Loop Road, allowing visitors access to some of these otherwise remote locations.
“People are most comfortable when they know there are signs and places to stay,” says Kaitlyn Bernard, AMC’s Maine policy manager. “Right now, Katahdin Woods and Waters is pretty wild, so the more we can do and the more options we provide, the more we can get visitors to come back again and again.”
To date, development has been limited to a 16-mile dirt road looping through the park’s southern portion, with access points to lookouts and to the start of other trails. Without a welcome center or onsite staff, visitors may find the area daunting to explore.
“Some of our work will be to re-route or reconstruct existing trails, trying to make them more sustainable,” says Andrew Norkin, AMC’s director of trails and recreation management. “We’ll also be creating a new trail to Deasey Pond and building a boardwalk system for the last 100 to 200 feet leading up to a viewing platform.”
To get started, AMC’s trail crew will build three shorter trails over an initial 15-week period, starting in October 2018, with further work through fall 2019. In addition to the Deasey Pond trail, the project includes an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trail to Lynx Pond, with a viewing platform at its terminus. “We will be constructing trails for all abilities, with some being less than 0.25-mile long, while others will be upwards of 1.5 miles long,” Norkin says.
Although Katahdin Woods and Waters is part of the National Park Service, the property shares many of the same recreation and conservation goals as AMC’s neighboring 75,000-acre Maine Woods Initiative, which celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2019. Tim Hudson, superintendent of Katahdin Woods and Waters, recognizes and appreciates that alignment: “We knew they had built trails south of us, and we wanted to work with AMC and youth crews in the area.”
That trust is due, in part, to AMC’s long history of trail building along the East Coast, as well as to AMC’s more recent focus on erosion prevention and sustainability. “Most of the trails in New Hampshire’s White Mountains were built in the late 1800s to mid-1900s, and there wasn’t much thought given to the number of people that would pass through,” Norkin says. “At AMC, we realize it is our job to regenerate trails and avoid erosion, putting things into place that could avoid those problems.”
AMC building trails in Katahdin Woods and Waters will benefit the surrounding communities, as well. “This is a region of the state that has seen dramatic economic shifts in the past few decades,” says Andrew Bossie, executive director of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. “What Katahdin Woods and Waters offers for the region are some really great outdoor tourism and recreation opportunities.”
The current effort is only the beginning. “As the management plan begins to scope out, we’ll see more opportunities,” Bernard says. “This first project is an important step in the right direction. We want to make the monument more user-friendly and more established, and we want to show that AMC is invested.”