Summonses issued by Baxter State Park to a nationally known ultramarathoner and best-selling author for allegedly violating its rules may be headed to court for resolution.

The Augusta-based attorney for Scott Jurek – who celebrated a record-breaking hike of the Appalachian Trail atop Mount Katahdin in July – said Sunday his client has been unable to reach an agreement with the district attorney’s office that is prosecuting the case on behalf of the park.

The attorney, Walter McKee, said Jurek, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, is a man of principle and feels that the park is trying to make an example out of what many regard as a remarkable athletic achievement.

“Scott was very troubled to receive the summonses in this manner,” McKee said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “It’s clear what is going on here. They (Baxter State Park officials) are trying to use Scott as a crude example in a much larger debate about the Appalachian Trail.”

On July 12, Jurek set a new speed record for hiking the length of the trail from Georgia to Maine. Jurek traversed the trail in 46 days, eight hours and eight minutes, beating the previous best time by about three hours. It takes most “thru-hikers,” as they are called, about six months to complete the Appalachian Trail.

When he reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, where the trail ends, Jurek, who had been followed by several hikers and photographers, popped open a bottle of champagne on the summit. Several corporations sponsored his trek and documented it with video and photographs.

Park rangers took exception to the celebration and after Jurek left the summit issued him three summonses – for littering, hiking with a group larger than 12 people, and consuming alcohol – all violations of park policy.

Littering occurred when the champagne was sprayed on the ground, the park says. Each infraction carries a fine of between $200 and $1,000. The alleged infractions are civil offenses, not criminal.

A judge requested that Jurek and Baxter State Park, which is represented by District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement, but McKee said the prospect of an agreement by a Sept. 9 deadline appears slim. Almy is the district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.

“You have to remember what Percival Baxter had in mind for this park. Mr. Jurek has to abide by the park rules, just like anyone else,” Almy said Sunday night, referring to the former Maine governor who established the park in the early 1930s with the stipulation that it remain forever wild.

“We believe his conduct was disrespectful to the park, which is considered by many, including Native Americans, to be a sacred place.”

“I don’t want to disparage what Mr. Jurek accomplished, but on the other hand there are plenty of people who choose not to do what he did. He popped open a bottle of champagne and sprayed it all over the place,” Almy said.

McKee said his office issued a subpoena late last week to Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell, requesting that the park preserve all electronically stored information, including computers, portable thumb drives, smartphones and voice mailbox messages related to the July 12 incident. McKee said he plans to use the information when the case goes to trial. He claims the park deleted some Facebook posts about the celebration.

Bissell acknowledged Sunday afternoon that he received the subpoena but did not elaborate.

The sides are scheduled to meet again on Sept. 9 in Millinocket with the judge. If there is no agreement in place by then, McKee said the matter will be headed to court.

PEAK PERFORMANCE

The Appalachian Trail, which is 2,190 miles long, stretches from Georgia to Mount Katahdin. It ends on the peak of the highest mountain in Maine.

Park officials including Bissell have grown increasingly concerned about thru-hikers using the park and mountain to further their own interests.

In a message posted July 16 on Baxter State Park’s Facebook page, Bissell wrote extensively about Jurek’s involvement with corporate sponsors.

He also suggested that the park may reconsider its relationship with the Appalachian Trail, although it was not clear what that would mean in practical terms.

“Thousands of people, including Mainers and others from all over the world visit Baxter Park and hike in the Park’s wilderness, including a climb to Baxter Peak,” Bissell wrote.

“People celebrate their accomplishment, often with their families and often many times over, quietly and with the appreciation for this precious gift left to us in perpetuity by Percival Baxter. These corporate events have no place in the park and are incongruous with the Park’s mission.”

Jurek could not be reached for comment Sunday night, but he wrote a blog last month about his experiences in Baxter State Park.

According to Jurek, he was issued the summonses after he descended from the summit of Katahdin – about four hours after a friend handed him a bottle of champagne on the summit. He said the friend was told by park rangers that the champagne would be OK to open as long as he kept it away from families and children.

“We were not aware of any rules against alcohol and I own that,” Jurek wrote. “I should have been better informed.”

He also said his group never got larger than 12 people, though he said people he did not know may have tagged along as he summited Katahdin.

Since the citations were issued, Jurek wrote that “the Park administration has chosen to paint a disparaging and inaccurate picture of what truly happened.”

“I understand now that the Park has long-standing issues with thru-hikers and the Appalachian Trail, so much so that the Park has even suggested that the AT should no longer have Katahdin as the terminus,” Jurek said.

“Completing the Appalachian Trail was one of the toughest and most rewarding journeys of my entire life,” he wrote.

“I hope to have inspired at least one more person to get outside, enjoy and protect the wilderness. We all have a right to explore our parks and wild places. We also have a duty to leave them in a better state than we found them, a mantra I have lived by since I was a kid growing up in rural Minnesota.”

 

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