I love libraries and Baxter State Park. Sadly, both are closed now, although many libraries have set up ways to borrow books.

Liz Soares’ column about libraries in this newspaper last week reminded me of how important libraries have been to me for my whole life. Growing up in Winthrop, my brother Gordon, sister Edie and I spent lots of time in the library. It was a very special place. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing book talks in libraries all over the state.

Some people have asked me for book recommendations and I’ve sent them to my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, to check out my book reviews. I was particularly pleased when one of my favorite publishers, Maine Authors Publishing, linked up with bookstores all over the state to make it easier for you to buy books. Check that out at maineauthorspublishing.org.

My favorite job has been serving as library trustee for 30 years. I raised $330,000 so Mount Vernon could build a two-story addition to our library. The new downstairs is wide open and includes a table and chairs, where I often see people visiting. Yes, a library is not just about books. Lots of groups now meet in the library. And our library is filled with beautiful artwork.

The decision to close Baxter State Park to camping and automobiles was probably the right one, but it still makes me sad. They will allow walk-in hiking, but only below the tree line.

We own a camp on Sourdnahunk Lake. Our camp is part of an old sporting camp, with 22 cabins and a lodge. We spent a lot of time there while our kids were growing up. They learned to fly fish, climbed lots of mountains, and enjoyed all the wildlife in our yard.

Baxter Park is literally in our backyard and we’ve spent lots of time there. I had a favorite brook I loved to fish in the park. I walked a mile and a half to the place I liked to start fishing, and amazingly, for all those years, I never saw another angler. I did often see deer, moose and bears. And yes, the bears were scary.

One time I waded around the corner in the brook and heard horrible screeching and moaning in the bushes down to my right. I assumed that a bear was killing a moose. But the screeching and moaning moved away from me in the bushes, crossed the brook out of sight around the corner, and started moving up the other side of the brook in my direction.

I decided to make a hasty retreat back upstream and I headed back to camp. When we got home, I asked a wildlife biologist at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife what I heard, and he told me that I’d done the right thing, because that was the noise of mating bears!

The only way to drive to our camp is through Baxter, and fortunately the park very generously allowed us to drive their road before it was open to the public. Today the road is closed to everyone, including us.

I can’t go to camp anymore because of my illness, ALS. There is no electricity at camp, and I need that for my wheelchair and breathing and other devices. I love that all of our kids and their families are still enjoying camp.

Last August, our 3- and 5-year-old granddaughters climbed their first mountain. Our son Josh said he kept the 3-year-old going by feeding her chocolates all the way up the mountain. I told Josh that would have worked for me too!

Baxter’s director, Eben Sypitkowski, encouraged people to look for hiking and other outdoor recreation opportunities closer to home. I have been recommending to many people the trails of the Kennebec Land Trust. They have lots of trails in our area including a nice one on the woodlot that my wife Linda and I donated to the land trust. That trail is on Route 41 just before you get to Minnehonk Lake and Mount Vernon village. There is a sign that says “Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area,” which we named for my dad.

You can get info on their trails on their website, tklt.org. So my recommendations are to enjoy some good books, and spend lots of time outdoors.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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