June 18, 2018
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The ‘wild’ in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Courtesy of Department of Conservation
Courtesy of Department of Conservation
A bull moose pauses mid munch while feeding along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
By Matthew Laroche, Allagash Wilderness Waterway superintendent

There is something extraordinary about watching wildlife in a natural wild setting. When you’re on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, you will experience wildlife in the natural world and without the security of viewing it through the window of your vehicle.

It is difficult to explain, but when you paddle up close to a giant bull moose and actually hear the water running off his antlers when he picks his head up out of the water while feeding on water plants — that is something very special.

When you spend time on the river, you’re almost sure to have some type of encounter with wildlife. It might be an eagle that swoops down to grab a snake or an inquisitive otter chattering his teeth at you because you are fishing in his favorite feeding area.

One of my favorite spots for viewing wildlife in the wilderness waterway is the upper end of Umsaskis Lake. This marshy area just teems with waterfowl, birds of prey, beaver, muskrat and moose. There are many back channels to explore and it seems like you can see some different type of animal around each bend in this swampy area.

Recently I received a complimentary letter from Chris Evans of Roque Bluffs. In his letter, Chris explains that he has thought about canoeing the Allagash since he was a forestry student at Orono in the early 1970s. He made the trip with his brother this year. Below are two paragraphs from that letter:

Now, 35 plus years later I finally have done it, and will do so again, no doubt. My business is boat building, focusing on the engineering and manufacturing side I have always left marketing and brand development to our folks who do that so I don’t pretend any great insight into what would cause others to finally take the trip. However, I believe I would have done so earlier if I had understood better what is involved.

I saw and experienced things that are very different from my daily life. I expected to see moose and eagles but did not understand the difference in doing so in a wild setting as opposed to along the side of the road in Jackman. Laying in my tent and listening to snipes whistle as they flew around me and a chorus of frogs that almost begged that I put in ear plugs is a very different experience than I have had previously. I have seen snipes’ evening aerial display in the past and heard frogs croak, but it is different in the wild, where they are in their own habitat, not in a limited space.

Chris hits the nail right on the head when he writes about seeing a moose in a wild setting as opposed to along the side of the road in Jackman. When you see a moose along the side of the road, you simply see a moose. When you see a moose from your canoe along the waterway — and we have plenty — you experience watching a moose in its natural environment. Sometimes they’ll let you paddle right up to them, and sometimes they will spook when you first see them. Actually, you may not want to get too close to a bull moose during the rutting season; during the last two weeks of September, they can be a little unpredictable.

Visitors unfamiliar with the Maine Woods often conjure up all kinds of images in their minds when they lay awake in the tent at night listening to the sounds of nature. You think: Was that a wolf I heard last night? I thought I heard a bear in the bushes behind my tent.

The answer usually is that it probably was a loon, and the rustling in the bushes behind your tent was most likely the campsite squirrels.

September is an excellent time to canoe the Allagash. The bugs are gone, the youth camp groups are done for the season, and during the last two weeks of the month, the trout usually bite pretty well. This year we have the added bonus of having good water levels.

Why don’t you take that canoe out for one more trip before it gets too cold? If you don’t have the time to organize a trip down the entire 92-mile waterway, you could put in at the Umsaskis/Long Lake thoroughfare and check out the upper end of Umsaskis Lake. You never know — you may see one of the threatened Canada lynx sitting on the riverbank as you paddle around the next bend in the river.

For information on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, go to www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ or call 207-941-4014, email heidi.j.johnson@maine.gov or write to the Bureau of Parks & Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor 04401

Waterway notes: Ed Palys has been hired for the short season assistant ranger position at Umsaskis/Churchill. Northern Forest Canoe Trail interns Nicole Grohoski and Peter Gerard have finished graveling 900-plus feet of portage trail at the tramway. The bateau has been restored and is on display at the History Center at Churchill Depot. The bateau was restored by student volunteers at the Husson University Boat School in Eastport. The fall fishing is just starting to pick up.

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