Baxter State Park's Fragile Ecosystem on Mt. Katahdin

As of 5-30-14, some trails on Mt. Katahdin were open.  The flora & fauna are even more fragile in November. ~ Photo Courtesy of Baxter State Park's Facebook Page

As of 5-30-14, some trails on Mt. Katahdin were open. The flora & fauna are even more fragile in November. ~ Photo Courtesy of Baxter State Park's Facebook Page

Mt. Katahdin is in what Baxter State Park Naturalist Jean Hoekwater calls "a shoulder season" when flora, fauna and fragile critters are especially vulnerable to damage from hiking summit trails.

Shortly before noon on Thursday, November 6, 2014, the Facebook page of Baxter State Park reiterated the fact that all trails to Mt. Katahdin are closed.

Road/ Trail Update as of 11/6/14: The Park Tote Road is gated at the foot of Abol Hill on the south end, and Wadleigh Brook crossing on the north end. The Roaring Brook road is closed at the sanctuary line and South Branch Pond road is closed at Trout Brook Crossing. All Katahdin Trails are closed at this time.

Park officials encourage Appalachian Trail hikers to summit Katahdin by mid-October, although they say, "nature determines when the Trail closes, not us."

The Katahdin environment, especially above the tree line, is especially fragile during spring and fall. That's when Jean Hoekwater is most concerned for the ecology of Katahdin. On November 6th, I spoke with Jean about those who might attempt to summit Katahdin under the present conditions.

The trails are not currently heavily covered with snow and/or ice. Jean says hikers on the trails break through the frost on the trail, which causes "frost needles to penetrate the soil" when destroys the ecosystem underneath -- especially above the tree line.

The summit trails to Katahdin are not guarded. Hikers will not be accosted or blocked from attempting to take a trail on the mountain. They will, however, be subject to penalties and will be required to leave the park.

Ms. Hoekwater says rangers are not trying to be "Big Brother." Their long-range and primary concern is for the park itself. To avoid water on the trails, for example, it is common for hikers to walk parallel to trails in order to avoid water or ice, but that causes irreparable damage to the environment.

Mt. Katahdin's ecosystem includes the Katahdin Arctic Butterfly, found nowhere else in the world. Naturalist Hoekwater is concerned about its habitat, but tries to balance access for hikers too.

Although hikers might receive a citation or be asked to leave the Park if they choose to walk on closed trails, the hikers will survive. Jean cautions "The greater concern is for the flora and fauna that might not survive their footsteps, most especially during the freeze/thaw cycles of the shoulder seasons."

We are encouraged to check the Baxter State Park Facebook page to see when we may use trails on and around Katahdin once again.

Click Here for Info on Baxter State Park's Mt. Katahdin

Click Here for Baxter State Park Rules & Regulations


Tags: Appalachian Trail, News, Closings, Appalachian Trail Clubs, Maine Appalachian Trail Club, Weather, and Closures

About the Author Robert Sutherland:
Robert Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life. Robert has two adult daughters and six grandchildren.
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