A weathered sign marks the summit of Katahdin, Baxter Peak, on Sept. 2, 2022 in Baxter State Park.  Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

When Eben Sypitkowski stepped down in February as the director of Baxter State Park, the state immediately began a national search for his successor.

Nearly 10 months later, the position remains vacant.

“We got a number of people who applied and the three-member authority interviewed a number of candidates,” said Maine Forest Service Director Patty Cormier, chair of the three-member Baxter State Park Authority. “We just didn’t find the person who was going to bring the park forward.”

The authority, which also includes Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso, is determined to find a candidate who will make sure Baxter State Park continues to honor the guidelines established by its founder, former Gov. Percival Baxter, while best serving park employees and the thousands of people who visit every year.

“Baxter State park is such a unique culture; it’s unique, independent employees,” Cormier said. “It really calls for a good, intensive search.”

The struggle to hire a new director has left one of Maine’s biggest outdoor attractions, which draws nearly 60,000 visitors a year, without a permanent leader. Gov. Baxter’s explicit instructions for how the nearly 210,000-acre park should be preserved and managed adds to the challenges the next director will face.

“It is up to us and the new director to interpret what the governor would want,” Cormier said.

Maine’s first attempt to identify a suitable candidate for the job was unsuccessful. The state began advertising the job again last week and is accepting applications until Jan. 13, 2023, at which point the committee will begin evaluating the list of potential candidates.

The director of Baxter State Park is responsible for all activities of the park consistent with the Deeds of Trust and the direction of the Baxter State Park Authority. That includes developing and implementing short- and long-range plans for park development, operations and administration.

The director will lead a group of 22 full-time employees and 39 seasonal volunteers.

“I think it’s the most unique situation in the country as far as this park given to the state and this authority that oversees it,” Cormier said. “That’s why it’s just imperative that we get the right person in there.”

The salary for the position, which is independently funded by Baxter State Park, ranges from $77,563.20 to $105,913.60. It also includes the same benefits as the state employee system with health insurance, dental coverage and retirement contributions.

Cormier said holding off several months between postings helped Baxter State Park fill some other vacancies in its hierarchy.

“We waited so that we could have the new Business Administrator and Scientific Forest Management Area Manager hires in place to make the new director’s onboarding that much easier,” she said.

Dan Renard, the head forest ranger at Baxter State Park, has been serving as the interim head of the park since Sypitkowski left to become the director of land management for The Nature Conservancy.

“He’s done a great job,” Cormier said of Renard. “It’s been about a little more involvement with the authority and the other employees in the park stepped up, too, so there was a good sense of unity and ‘let’s make this work.’”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...