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Environment and Outdoors

Baxter State Park is looking for a new director

Maine Daily Life Baxter State Park
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Mt. Katahdin looms over the forest on a rare clear skies, Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Baxter State Park near Millinocket, Maine, Sunday. The 5,269-foot peak attracts winter climbing enthusiasts seeking a challenge on the state's highest mountain.

The search is on for a new director of Baxter State Park.

The park's current director, Eben Sypitkowski, will take a new job with the Nature Conservancy in Maine next month.

The nearly 210,000-acre park was a gift from former Maine Gov. Percival Baxter, who donated the land and left detailed instructions for maintaining it in his will. But Baxter could never have predicted the challenges its managers have faced over the last two years.

Just ask Sypitkowski, who doesn't hesitate when he's asked to name the toughest task that his successor might face.

"A global pandemic, I guarantee it," he said. "That's one, obviously, that I didn't see on the horizon when I took this job three-and-a-half years ago and has colored a lot of what we've done here in the past few years. I'm very proud of our record around COVID. We've had no known transmissions among staff and we've done a, I think, an excellent job of protecting staff."

Beyond the pandemic, Sypitkowski said he's spent much of the last three years building stronger relationships with other parks in the state and with agencies like the Maine Forest Service and search and rescue organizations.

He's also been focused on the park's workforce of 22 year-round employees and 47 seasonal workers, much more than the 40 people employed at the park back in 1969, the year Baxter died and left detailed instructions for balancing public access with keeping the land "forever wild."

Even without a pandemic, Sypitkowski said the job can be difficult juggling an increasing number of visitors and managing the park according to Governor Baxter's wishes.

"[It's about] keeping the deeds of trust central, keeping them close on hand, making sure that you're doing a deep reading of everything that the governor intended here — and also allowing for conversations around how some of those directives have evolved over time, as our understanding of science has evolved over time, as the prominence of the park as an outdoor recreation in Maine has evolved over time," he said.

Still, Sypitkowski says finding time to enjoy the park itself kept him centered and energized. He encouraged his successor, whoever it is, to set aside time to do the same.

"One of the best things and one of the most restorative pieces about being in this role is that occasionally you can take those days and put them on the calendar and make sure that you actually get out into the park and into some of these wonderful wilderness places," he said.

Friday is Sypitkowski's last day. The Baxter State Park Authority is currently conducting a national search for his replacement, he said.