Allagash plan to aid waterway

Posted Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:59 p.m.

On Nov. 29, 2010, Commissioner Eliza Townsend of the Maine Department of Conservation accepted the Allagash Wilderness Waterway strategic plan. The plan is the result of years of work by the AWW Advisory Council. The strategic plan, along with the 1999 AWW management plan, will be used as a framework to write a revised management plan for the waterway.

The AWW is a 92-mile-long ribbon of lakes, ponds, streams and river that wind through the heart of northern Maine’s vast commercial forest. The waterway became the first state-administered river to be designated by the U.S. Department of Interior as a component of the federal Wild and Scenic River Program. This designation was the culmination of an effort begun in the early 1960s to protect the outstanding natural character, unique recreational opportunities and historical significance of the Allagash River and its associated lakes and ponds.

The Allagash has had a tumultuous past. Wilderness advocates, sportsmen and timber companies all have had different visions on how to best manage the historic waterway. In an effort to calm the politically charged and often rough waters of the Allagash, former Gov. John Baldacci issued an executive order in June 2006 establishing the governor’s working group to study the AWW and recommend management changes.

After more than seven months’ work, members of the task force presented the governor with seven suggestions for improving the waterway.

The panel’s recommendations include:

  • Elevating the status of the Allagash within the Department of Conservation.
  • Creating a new waterway superintendent position.
  • Forming a seven-member advisory council.
  • Creating an endowment fund.
  • Adopting a mission statement to guide future management of the waterway.

Don Nicoll, chairman of the group, said that the debate over use of the waterway was not going to dissipate anytime soon. Instead of seeking an end to the debate, the debate must become more constructive.

Gov. Baldacci submitted legislation to implement the recommendations of the working group. That legislation, which received near-unanimous support from the Maine Legislature, was signed into law on May 21, 2007. One notable exception from the working group’s recommendations was that the creation of a new superintendent position was left out. The Department of Conservation was directed by Gov. Baldacci to fund that position from existing resources.

The AWW Advisory Council’s first order of business was the creation of the following mission statement and guiding principals:

“Preserve, protect and develop the maximum wilderness character of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway by ensuring its ecological integrity and optimum public use through careful management as a wilderness area in the historic and modern context of a working forest.”

Guiding Principles:

  • Priority is placed on providing a memorable wilderness recreation experience to its primary users, canoeists and fishermen.
  • The rich history, cultures and traditions of the Allagash River contribute to its uniqueness, and will be preserved and interpreted as an asset to the waterway and its visitors.
  • The wilderness character of the watercourse and restricted zone is fundamental to the purpose of the waterway under founding state statutes and the federal wild river designation, and central to state administration and management.
  • The watercourse and restricted zone shall be managed in accordance with wilderness management principles and legislative mandates to facilitate preservation of historical features and traditions that enrich the waterway and visitor experience.
  • Broader waterway purposes of ecological integrity, viewsheds, fish and wildlife management, forest management and wilderness recreation and character of the ¼-mile and 1-mile zones shall be pursued in partnership with landowners and appropriate agencies, especially the Maine Departments of Conservation and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

To view the entire strategic plan, visit the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands website at www.maine.gov/doc/parks/AllagashWildernessWaterwayAdvisoryCouncil.shtml and click on “strategic plan.”

The council worked with officials at the Bureau of Parks and Lands in developing the final version of the strategic plan. A total of 10 draft plans were reviewed at public meetings. At the end of each council meeting, the public was given an opportunity to comment on the work of the council and make suggestions for changes. Many of the comments and suggestions provided by the public were incorporated into the final plan, which was signed by all seven members of the AWW Advisory Council.

This strategic plan will be most helpful in guiding future management of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The Bureau of Parks and Lands now will start the process of updating the 1999 management plan for the AWW. This document will outline specific policies, management objectives and strategies to guide management of the waterway over the next 10-year period. There will be ample opportunity for the public to comment verbally or in writing as the management planning process proceeds over the next year to 18 months.

For information on the AWW visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks/, call 941-4014, e-mail heidi.j.johnson@maine.gov or write to the Bureau of Parks and Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor 04401.

Waterway notes:

  • All 48 campsites available at the winter campgrounds at Chamberlain Bridge and Kellogg Brook were reserved for the month of January and all but one site for the entire three-month ice fishing season. Eight sites are available in the parking lot for transient use on a first-come, first-served basis at the regular camping fee of $4 per person per night for Maine residents and $8 for nonresidents. The water-access campsites on the lakes are available for use in the winter as well as summer; the same fees apply at these sites.
  • The Allagash region received an extraordinarily high amount of rainfall this fall and early winter. Therefore, the dams at Telos and Churchill are releasing more water than normal. This will cause currents in the thoroughfares and anywhere that brooks and streams flow into the waterway. These currents will keep the ice from forming in these places or erode the ice from underneath. Avoid traveling on the ice near thoroughfares and tributary streams. If in doubt, play it safe and check the ice in the area you plan to travel before venturing out onto any frozen body of water.

Matthew Larouche can be reached at matt.laroche@maine.gov

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