AUGUSTA, Maine — As Allagash Wilderness Waterway Superintenent Matthew LaRoche sees it, “The waterway seems to be in a pretty good place right now.”
It’s not just his opinion, it’s what others are saying as well. “I’m certainly pleased with the way things are going, and we get a lot of positive public feedback,” he said in a press release from the Department of Conservation.
He recalled a visitor’s comments last fall. The man who canoed the waterway numerous times in the past 20 years called him aside and said, “I don’t know what you are doing up on the Allagash Waterway, but keep it up.”
The visitor was referring specifically to the friendliness and professionalism of the waterway’s 13 staff members, the most apparent sign to visitors of how the AWW is being operated. Those qualities run deep throughout the entire management of the waterway, blending professionalism, courtesy and efficiency with a balance of progress and the preservation of the AWW’s unique wilderness character, according to LaRoche.
With the approval last year of the new AWW strategic plan, work now can begin on the revision of the 1999 management plan “with a clear mission and vision developed,” LaRoche said. The 2010 Allagash Wilderness Waterway Annual Report, which includes the strategic plan developed by the seven-member AWW Advisory Council, was accepted in December by then-Commissioner Eliza Townsend of the Maine Department of Conservation and has been published and is available online.
“Few trips in Maine are so tied to history as the AWW, from Native American history to Thoreau’s diaries to the Allagash as central to the 20th century forest industries to remote river fishing, canoeing and camping today,” MDOC Commissioner Bill Beardsley said.
“Today the AWW is a precious balancing act of nature, public access and a working forest,” he said. “This is a gem of national significance. We’ve been entrusted with this waterway. We will honor the public trust.”
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a 92-mile-long ribbon of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that runs through the heart of Maine’s vast commercial forest. The AWW was established in 1966 by the Maine Legislature to protect and develop the maximum wilderness character of the waterway. This unique area is managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Maine Department of Conservation. In 1970, the AWW was named the first state-administered component of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
The internationally acclaimed AWW contributes significantly to the economy of northern Maine by drawing visitors from all over the United States, Canada and Europe. These visitors engage the services of many guides and outfitters to help them enjoy their Allagash experience. The waterway also leases two commercial sporting camps, which had a total use of 3,507 user days during 2010, an increase from the 2,664 user days in 2009.
The major accomplishment of the past year, LaRoche said, is the completion of the strategic plan by the council, chaired by Don Hudson of Wiscasset. The council members met four times last year, with three sessions open to the public and one working session on the waterway.
The new strategic plan clearly outlines a mission and guiding principles for the management of the AWW, LaRoche said. The mission states:
“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 historical and modern context of a working forest.”
“This plan is going to help us make our decisions,” the AWW superintendent said. “It took into consideration public comments and what the [Bureau of Parks and Lands] had to say — it evolved quite a lot.
“It’s certainly a plan that all the partners can work with and live with,” he said. “It meets all concerns and is a workable document.”
The regular management planning process for the AWW, which will include opportunities for public comment, has been started by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and is under way, LaRoche said.
There have been other significant projects on the AWW during 2010, including the completion of the partial reconstruction of Lock Dam. The historic earthen dam with its wooden structure was built in 1841 at the natural outlet of the Allagash River at Chamberlain Lake for the purpose of reversing the water flow from the Allagash watershed to the East Branch of the Penobscot River to float logs south to Bangor.
The whole structure was rebuilt, except for the gate mechanism, “which was in good condition,” LaRoche said, at a cost to BPL of $77,000. Over and above that amount, Lock Dam Preservation Ltd., a preservation group, donated a sum of $10,000 in cash, plus in-kind labor, supplies and equipment to fix the dam. The structure was raised about 2 feet to reduce the possibility of breaching the dam during high-water conditions.
“This has resulted in the preservation of a historic structure that also has ecological impact, because it’s still used for water management” along the waterway, LaRoche said.
Work also began on restoring a 25-foot-long section of the historic tramway built in 1903 to haul logs between Eagle and Chamberlain lakes, LaRoche said. The tramway originally ran on a 6,000-foot-long continuous cable, and the restoration work is being done “so people can visualize how it worked,” he said.
This winter, 68 yards of gravel and 20 yards of stone were hauled by track truck across the Chamberlain Lake ice to the tramway site for work to begin this June. The gravel will be used to refurbish the Portage Trail between the two lakes, using funding from a federal Recreational Trails Program, LaRoche said.
The waterway is still seeking funding to complete the project. LaRoche said he hopes at some point to continue work to clear a section of the rail bed and restore the wooden structure supporting the rails and the cable.
Other smaller, perhaps less-noticeable projects also have been completed along the AWW, including the installation of a solar-power system at the Churchill Dam ranger station to reduce use of fossil fuels and the removal of 40 unneeded signs to enhance the AWW wilderness character.
Additional highlights of 2010 report include: an increase in fee revenues for the waterway from $83,652 for 2009 to $104,875 for 2010; a 9 percent increase of day use; a 9 percent decrease in camping use due to unusually dry weather and lower water levels for August and September; a 24 percent increase in sporting camp use due to increased visitation at Nugent’s Camps on Chamberlain Lake; and 805 volunteer hours donated by 26 volunteers and organizations.
LaRoche also noted that the AWW had a significant increase in reportable incidents, with 13 incidents ranging from medical emergencies and illegal access. One of the more serious incidents involved the rescue of two kayakers on Chamberlain Lake, he said. Assistant Ranger Rick Palmer rescued the kayakers after they got caught in heavy winds out on the lake.
LaRoche said the incident not only shows the quality and training of the AWW staff and their sense of responsibility, but also that “they are on the lookout when they’re out doing their job.”
For more information about the 2010 Allagash Wilderness Waterway report, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/pdf/2010awwannualreport.pdf.