Claude O’Donnell admits that the Craig Pond Association is very protective of the water quality in the picturesque Orland pond.
He admits that he and his organization weren’t very pleased when the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, along with members of the Bucksmills Rod and Gun Club, pushed to reopen a closed boat ramp and stock fish in Craig Pond back in 2001.
And he admits he was upset when the Craig Pond Association, of which he is president, eventually lost that battle.
But O’Donnell, who lives in Holden and has a camp on Craig Pond, isn’t a sore loser. He’s a problem-solver.
And O’Donnell and others decided the story wasn’t over.
What has happened after the ramp was reopened can serve as a model of cooperation between well-meaning groups that have opposing views on an issue.
It didn’t take long for camp association members to notice some of the consequences they had feared during debate over the boat ramp.
“Ice fishing people, some of them, were leaving beer bottles, beer cans, sinking them down their ice holes,” O’Donnell said. “Trash. McDonald’s wrappers. [People were] building fires near big trees, killing the trees. Stealing people’s firewood.”
At pretty little Craig Pond —a 218-acre gem with crystal-clear water and a maximum depth of 69 feet — O’Donnell and others found that conduct unacceptable.
Last summer, O’Donnell called members of Bucksmills Rod and Gun Club in nearby Bucksport and asked if he could make a presentation to the same membership that had rallied behind the boat ramp in the first place.
Bob Mercer of Bucksport, the current president of the club, says he’s the only club member who is also a member of the Craig Pond Association.
And Mercer said he was a bit worried when he saw O’Donnell stride into the club for that evening meeting.
“After I got up off the floor when I fell off my chair, to see him walking in … it was a very amiable situation,” Mercer said. “He just presented the fact that [the Craig Pond Association] was concerned about trash on the pond, and could we work together to try to solve the problem.”
O’Donnell couldn’t have been more pleased with the response he got from the Bucksmills members.
“I was planning on spending 20 minutes, and they kept me there for an hour. They were the nicest people,” O’Donnell said. “They thought it was a terrible problem. They wanted to do something … I thought, ‘This is our problem together. They want their kids fishing here. They want their grandchildren fishing here.’ And we want to welcome them and be in partnership with them.”
Members of both organizations agreed that most anglers are responsible sportsmen who don’t litter. And both organizations recognized that just a few people could make a huge negative impact on the pond … or a huge positive one.
First, the two groups agreed to an ambassadorship program, through which an member of each organization would have a seat on the board of directors of the other club.
That, they figured, would further open up the lines of communication.
Then they started brainstorming, and came up with a symbolic way to show how important both groups took the desecration of Craig Pond.
The groups ordered 1,000 reusable cloth bags, like you might find at a grocery store. Each club paid for 500. And on those bags was a simple, clear message:
Clean, Clear, Cold
The Craig Pond Association in partnership with
Rod and Gun Club
The rod and gun club handed out the bags to ice anglers during the winter, both at Craig Pond and at nearby Silver Lake.
Starting this weekend, the Craig Pond Association will hand out the bags while conducting courtesy boat inspections.
Neither organization president knows how much litter will be collected by bag-toting anglers and boaters.
But they’re confident that they’re making a difference by sending a united message.
“It’s getting a message across that’s practical. And it’s getting Bucksmills and Craig Pond Association property owners and fishing people, to work together. That’s huge,” O’Donnell said. “And that’s the message we’re trying to send.”
O’Donnell and his wife have had a camp on Craig Pond since 1979. Mercer’s parents built a camp there after World War II, and he says he has enjoyed spending time there for 63 years.
And Mercer said he’s happy to do what he can to spread a new message to those who would enjoy any of the special places that abound in Maine.
“My attitude about this is, if I drive in this camp road and there’s a bottle on the side of the road, that bottle is the responsibility of the person who left it there,” Mercer said. “If I drive by it and don’t pick it up, to my way of thinking, 20 percent of that responsibility comes to me. If I drive by it five times and don’t pick it up, I’m as responsible as the person who left it there.”
Many won’t start living by Mercer’s 20-percent rule. The more that do, he says, the better.
And if they picked up trash and tossed it into one of their new, reusable trash bags, courtesy of Bucksmills Rod and Gun Club and the Craig Pond Association? All the better.
“If people just did this, a lot of these problems wouldn’t exist,” Mercer said. “That’s the kind of philosophy that I’m trying to espouse to the gun club members. Yes, there are people who litter. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can pick it up.”