The first thing that hits you as you drive down the road to Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park Campground is the remoteness. The park sits at the end of an almost eight-mile-long, narrow, winding dirt road. Driving it Saturday in the pouring rain, it felt like the closer I got to the campground the more distance I put between me and the rest of the world.
I got to the gate around 10 that morning and checked in with one of the campground managers, Doris Born. She gave me a great site in one of their 11 lean-tos. Mine was on the bank of the Mattawamkeag River, a short distance from the check-in cabin, where Doris and her husband Pete reside during the season. Pete was attending to campground duties, mainly diverting water from the road. I had passed him, working a ditch, on my way in.
Doris gave me some handouts, a trail map, campground map and brochure of the natural features, and I headed to my lean-to to unload the truck. It didn’t take long before I had my overnight gear set out. The sleeping pad was out, sleeping bag thrown down on top and I was home for the duration. Now, it was time to do a little exploring.
The lean-to site was in a towering stand of hemlock, literally a stone’s throw from the river. It was all river on that day; swollen with recent rains, churning black water, and roaring past the bank. It would be the single most prominent sound in my ears for as long as I was in the lean-to. I love a roaring river for sleeping. If I stayed in the lean-to I’d want to nap, its effect is that hypnotic. So, I got in the truck and took a ride to a pull-off spot I saw on the ride in.
Sleugundy Heaters is the name on the rustic sign at the pull-off. I stepped out of the truck and walked over to the view of a 40-foot high slate gorge with whitewater rapids running through it. There’s a trail leading back to the campground a short mile or so away. Ducking the rain, I drove to another spot called Gordon Falls. I walked down to the bank where three people were fishing and chatted with them for a bit.
Ron Adams, from Bangor, was with his wife Rose and their young grandson, Ben Hesserd, who had just arrived from Alaska the day before. I remarked to Ron about how, from what I’ve seen so far, this area is outstanding. “I’ve been coming here for 30 years,” he said.
He parks his camper for the season in the campground. While we were talking, Rose’s rod bent to the water. “You got a fish, Rose,” Ron yelled over the roar of the falls. Rose, meanwhile, was reeling in a 14- to 16-inch smallmouth bass.
It was a nice fish. We checked it out and they released it back into the river. I headed back to the campground to participate in one of my favorite rainy day activities, visiting other folks. Just up the road from leaving the falls, a fisher crossed in front of the truck. The first thing I wanted to ask the campground operators was about wildlife sightings.
Back at the campground office and store Pete and Doris were on the front porch. “Did you get a muffin?” asked Doris as I walked up. “Everyone gets a blueberry muffin,” she continued, as she handed me mine.
When I asked about wildlife in the area, I spent the next hour listening to stories from Pete about moose, bear cubs playing in the road and one story about Doris’ encounter with what she called, “my favorite marten.”
After talking a while, I walked around the campground loop to see the other sites. The town of Mattawamkeag owns the park and campground. Walking past the sites I noticed the effort that Doris and Pete put into keeping the place neat and clean. As town employees they are responsible for maintaining the road in, and the campground property of 250 acres. The entire park is 1,000 acres and has 15 miles of hiking, ATV and mountain biking trails.
The sites have thick growths of trees between them and all have picnic tables and fire rings. Some are full service with electricity and water hookups. Some are tents only. There’s a recreation hall, playground, covered barbecue pavilion, hot showers and a laundromat.
I went back to the office and bought some firewood from Pete. He said he’d deliver it to my site. I headed back to my lean-to by the river and watched the water rise in a steady rain. I can’t be beside water and not fish, so I broke out my fly rod and walked over to the edge of the river to make a few casts. I worked my way downstream to the beach in front of the screen house, casting futilely along the way.
Soon, I had enough fishing in the rain. I returned to the lean-to to cook supper: ham steak, beans and macaroni salad. Pete had just left the firewood.
After supper and watching the campfire, I went to bed early to the sound of the river roaring in my ears. The river drowned out the sound of the rain on the lean-to roof. There aren’t many places where I could camp in the worst of rains and still have a great time. I just found another one, I think, as I drifted off for the night.
Directions and more: The campground is located in the town of Mattawamkeag, 12 miles north on U.S. Route 2 from Lincoln. Look for a sign on the right that reads Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park Campground. From Route 2 it’s 7.8 miles to the campground. The rates vary from $20 per night for a tent site or lean-to to $30 for a full-service motor home site. For more info visit their Web site at www.mwpark.com.