The Business issue
Moose Fever in Barnjum Basin
In the Shadow of White Cap Mountain
Building Trails Lifts All Towns
Moose Fever in Barnjum Basin
Editor's Note: For the Winter and Spring issues, we'll be focusing on businesses that operate in the Appalachian Trail landscape in Maine. The A.T. is thought of as a place for hikers, but the greater landscape also features sportsmen and women, cross country skiers, birdwatchers, snowmobilers, ATVers, paddlers, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and communities that support outdoor recreation. These are their stories!
By Roger Lambert
In the summer of 1969, my father-in-law told me that his logging friend was developing a new road system in Mount Abram’s “Barnjum Basin” which is on the west side of the mountain.He spoke of views, sweeping vistas and the “western feel” of the range. Wanting to check it out, I headed up one weekend with him. I had never seen anything like it in the western mountains of Maine, which my family has called home for six generations. Cool, crisp mountain waters make up the headwaters of the Perham and Orbeton Streams. They tumble down from the spruce and fir stands sprinkled with white birch on the west side of the bald peaks of Maine’s 8th highest mountain.This area is home to a high-quality gene pool of moose, bear and whitetail deer. It’s a habitat that is unsurpassed in Maine for many species of small game and spruce grouse.
Fast forward to twenty years later: after hearing friends chatting over coffee about “moose calling” endeavors, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and I invited myself along on the next trip. Destination: the Barnjum Basin. Many years of logging had produced a new growth bonanza that was a magnet and a vast food source for western Maine’s expanding moose herd. There was new ownership, new management and a proper gravel road system switch-backed north, south and up the Mount Abram to the east. This provided additional and better access than the system built in the 1960’s.I got “moose fever”.
After becoming proficient at moose calling and recognizing how special the Barnjum Basin was, I began to put my Maine Guide license to work and started leading hiking, photo and hunting trips. During the last twenty-five years I have been privileged to lead hundreds of first-timers into Barnjum Country. Words or photos cannot describe the impact that it has had on them (and me) each time we “go up the hill”! On top of that, an average of 350 tons of clear, high protein,chem free, low fat moose meat is made available for food by participants in the Maine Moose Hunt each year.
On one occasion a group of us observed thirty-eight moose at the same time at the same place.This is called a moose “super-cell” and one of this size has seldom been witnessed. We were in the presence of sixty moose total, having just seen many more in close proximity. Other than the Katahdin region to the north, Mount Abram’s Barnjum Basin is the closest big mountain landscape to population centers of coastal New England.
Mount Abram stands along as the “crown jewel” of the Western Maine Mountains. It’s stunning views of the Presidential Range and the Mahoosucs is unmatched.We must conserve this ground for generations to come. The effort is underway in the High Peaks Alliance and we have been joined by many conservation groups and entities working on protection for the area. This is the last great unprotected mountain experience available to the outdoor community in the eastern United States.
For more information or to join the effort please visit highpeaksalliance.org.
Roger Lambert is the owner and operator of Maine Guide Service and the President of High Peaks Alliance.
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A Brief History of West Branch Pond Camps
In the Shadow of White Cap Mountain
By Eric Stirling
The story of West Branch Pond Camps began in 1881. Gulf Hagas had prevented the easy harvesting of old growth spruce and pine on the West Branch Pleasant River’s upper reaches. Construction of a large log and earthen dam and the widening of the river channel with dynamite in 1879 made harvesting possible. A rough tote road from Katahdin Iron Works extended up along the west side of the river all the way to First West Branch Pond. Its original use was quickly expanded to include a way into the country for moose hunting and trout fishing. Phillip and Charles Randall of Milo, Maine visited the country looking for moose around this time. The scenic view of White Cap Mountain, a bubbling spring, and a cleared opening from an abandoned lumber camp must have presented a welcome opportunity for building a new business to serve the growing ranks of “rusticators.” Charles counted his first season in 1881, quickly building log cabins of various sizes and a kitchen with attached dining hall to accommodate well-heeled sports recruited from the east coast cities and beyond. By all accounts Randall was a master woodsman, guide and host. He raised his family at the Camps in the summer, returning to Milo for schooling in the fall. Some of the earliest registers contain entries made by ice fishing parties from Bangor with hundreds of trout kept and preserved in salt for shipping. West Branch Pond’s only non-native fish, the golden shiner, was likely introduced as bait by these winter fishing parties. Randall commented to a Bangor sporting journal in 1901 that caribou were quite plentiful when he started the camps. The year 1909 marked the Randalls' final season at West Branch Pond and the beginning of my family’s tenure. Lewis P. Chadwick had worked as a guide in the Rangeley area and was ready to operate a camp of his own. By this time access to the Camps was via Greenville and Kokadjo and Lewis did much to modernize the Camps. A small sawmill was brought in and many of the buildings standing today were constructed in the ten years he steered operations. Lewis sold the Camps to his half-brother, Fred in 1920. Fred and Abbie Chadwick enjoyed a long and prosperous era at West Branch, raising two sons and a daughter, weathering the Great Depression, watching the world at war, welcoming the pioneers of the Appalachian Trail, and witnessing early mechanization of pulpwood logging. The Hollingsworth and Whitney Company harvested timber throughout the 1920s and 30s, building winter roads for hauling pulpwood to First Roach Pond. Myron Avery and his band of companions from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, utilized sections of these winter roads while blazing the original A.T. route in 1934, overnighting at the Camps on several occasions. In the summer of 1946 Hollingsworth and Whitney constructed a modern, gravel base truck road past the Camps and onward another three miles to Logan Brook. The Camps quickly lost a degree of remoteness but the road in also allowed new opportunities for the next generation of owners. My grandfather, Cliff Kealiher, walked to the Camps by way of the old Pleasant River tote road in 1934. He loved the woods and returned from Army service in the Pacific to marry Fred and Abbie’s daughter, Connie. In 1950 they bought the Camps from Connie’s parents. Cliff had cooked in the Army and was used to putting on a good feed. The ease of transporting in fresh meats and propane appliances for cold storage and cooking transformed the offerings of the West Branch kitchen. In 1961 Cliff introduced prime rib dinner with all the fixings and apple pie for dessert. The road from Greenville was so good by then, people could drive in just to have dinner and maybe fish a little before returning home for the night. During the school year Connie kept house with daughters Carol Ann and Rosemary in Greenville while Cliff embraced snowmobiling and the cash flow it brought in the lean winter months. In 1974 when my parents, Andrew Stirling and Carol Kealiher Stirling started their first season with sons Jack and Nathan in tow, the woods around West Branch Pond were a quiet and remote place. The Appalachian Trail skirted the lower slopes of White Cap then shot straight up over the saddle east of Hay Mountain. The truck roads of the 1950s were choked with alders and made impassable by washed out bridges and culverts. No one went anywhere far without a jeep or on their own two feet. For my brothers and me it was a playground without boundaries. By the early 1980s that was all about to change. The areas logged by Hollingsworth and Whitney in the 1920s were ripe for harvesting and an even more aggressive logging practice was introduced by the Scott Paper Company. Termed “hardwood conversion,” the practice consisted of clear-cutting plots up to 100 acres in size on virtually untouched hardwood ridges, then planting fast growing softwood species like red pine and hybrid larch. Year-round logging operations, loud machinery, and gravel roads branching out to every corner of the woods defined my years growing up at the Camps. A few regular customers stopped coming while others watched and worried about the future of West Branch. I returned to the woods in the spring of 2004, purchasing the Camps from my mother and quickly securing a purchase and sale agreement for 30 acres of land from the Plum Creek Timber. It was clear by that time that most of the former paper company lands were moving toward conservation owners and the future was bright for my new ownership. In 2009 the Appalachian Mountain Club purchased 29,000 acres of land adjacent to our 30-acre plot. Interest in backcountry ski trips rapidly grew adding onto our already popular summer season. Today my wife Mildred and our daughter, Avis, and son, Oscar, look forward to continuing the long heritage of family ownership at West Branch Pond.
Eric Stirling is the owner and operator of West Branch Pond Camps. To visit check out westbranchpondcamps.com
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By Russell Walters
It takes 3 weeks to hike the Appalachian Trail from the western border of Maine to Katahdin, when the ground isn’t covered in snow. It takes 3 days to snowmobile across the state. Maine now has a 14,000 mile Interconnected Trail System (ITS,) allowing snowmobilers to explore every rugged corner of our beautiful state (especially if they strap on some snowshoes!) With modern 4-stroke touring sleds that are fuel efficient, comfortable and easy-to-operate, snowmobiling has become a sport for all ages, a way for families to adventure outdoors together…and a major draw for winter visitors to The Forks, population 37.
We’re a tiny town, a speck on the map where two great rivers converge. A.T. hikers know our neck of the woods best for the Kennebec River ferry (operated by Maine Guide Greg Caruso who runs trail groomers and leads snowmobile tours in the winter.) Our location, while clearly perfect for whitewater rafting (which we pioneered back in ‘76,) is also ideal for snowmobiling. We sit at the center of Maine’s ITS. Eustis, Jackman, Greenville… all half-day trips by trail.
Until we added snowmobiling in the early 80’s we were a three-season operation catering to rafters in the spring and summer, and deer hunters in the fall. With the addition of the increasingly popular winter sport, we can offer year-round employment to our staff and year-round accommodations to our guests. While amenities are important (we know hikers appreciate them too!), it’s the trails that really matter, and they require professional management and continual maintenance. Northern Outdoors created the forerunner to The Forks Area Trails Club over 25 years ago. It’s one of hundreds of snowmobile clubs in Maine that groom the snow, remove debris from the trails, and build bridges across waterways. With two Tucker Sno-Cats operating at least three nights per week, the cost of trail maintenance is enormous…but it is another facet of our year-round operations that provides important winter employment for two or three people annually.
With the growth of easy-to-operate 4-stroke touring sleds, a well-maintained trail system and comfortable sled resorts, snowmobiling has become a family activity. Travelers are coming from further afield to see the beautiful destinations in our backyard, and explore Maine’s rural towns by trail. Every year we’re seeing more visitors new to snowmobiling give it a try with our modern rentals and guided tours. A perfect introductory ride takes new sledders (or those looking for an afternoon jaunt) along the Kennebec River to Moxie Falls. Maine’s tallest waterfall is a short, not even half mile, hike from the snowmobile trail…and an attraction that brings visitors back to The Forks every season.
A short ride from Northern Outdoors, Coburn Mountain stands at 3,717’ elevation, the site of the defunct Enchanted Mountain Ski Area. It’s the highest groomed snowmobile trail in Maine with some of the most dramatic mountain views in the state. We call it The Peak of Maine Snowmobiling because it’s on every New Englander sledder’s bucket list. The views from the top stretch from Sugarloaf to Katahdin.
In one day riders can hit the peak, visit the spectacular Grand Falls on the Dead River, have lunch at Lake Parlin Lodge in Jackman, and loop back to Northern Outdoors. The next day sledders might ride to Greenville for lunch at the Stress Free Moose, or up to Rockwood and refuel at The Birches, ride across Moosehead Lake to see Mt Kineo. We offer a self-guided inn-to-inn tour with the historic Herbert Hotel in Kingfield. The scenic two day journey takes riders through The Bigelows, across Flagstaff Lake, along the Kennebec River. These are just a few examples of rural Maine towns, connected by trail, working together to build an outdoor recreation economy.
We also work with Maine Huts and Trails to offer rafting and hiking packages in the summer, and host outdoor recreation leadership courses every season. The week long winter college program includes cross-country skiing to Stratton Brook Hut, a rope course with team building challenges, navigation instruction, and a snowshoe expedition up Pleasant Pond Mountain (an ideal winter hike on the AT, 2 miles down the road from us.) As students gain skills, they also see first-hand the cooperation between guides, organizations and businesses that form the foundation of Maine’s outdoor economy.
Like the craft beer boom, Maine’s outdoor recreation based businesses need to work together to operate with a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats philosophy to thrive. Snowmobiling may be the sport that dominates our winter landscape (and a sport that necessitates trail clubs working together across the state) but it’s the year-round mix of outdoor adventure seekers that supports a full-service adventure resort in the willywhacks. Whether we’re shuttling A.T. hikers to the lodge for a soak in the hot tub and a hearty meal, guiding rafters down the river, or showing snowmobilers where to take in the best mountain views, our goal is always the same: to contribute to a diversified rural economy and share the spectacular backyard playground that is Western Maine.
Russell Walters is President of Northern Outdoors is a premier four-season outdoor adventure resort based in The Forks, Maine. For more info check out www.northernoutdoors.com.
Lifts All Towns
Snowmobiling Brings a Winter Economy to The Forks
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5 | Maine A.T. Magazine Fall 2017
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Trail Land Trust
P.O. Box 761
Portland, ME 04104