Camps provide alternative lodging on Maine Public Reserved Lands

A young paddler heads out in her kayak on Fourth Debsconeag Lake during a Labor Day weekend camping trip.
Photo courtesy of Rex Turner
A young paddler heads out in her kayak on Fourth Debsconeag Lake during a Labor Day weekend camping trip.
Posted Sept. 28, 2011, at 12:41 p.m.
A young camper admires the view from the dock on Fourth Debsconeag Lake.
Photo courtesy of Rex Turner
A young camper admires the view from the dock on Fourth Debsconeag Lake.

My daughter is about to turn 21… months. As a father, then, I’m not worrying about her bar hopping but rather hopping off the bed.

It’s a time when her language is exploding along with her ambition and bravery. I’m also learning that our family outdoor activities are pretty much shaped by her. Camping is a perfect example.

This summer, busy schedules kept our family camping to a minimum, and day trips ruled. A Labor Day weekend trip to Fourth Debsconeag Lake, however, proved memorable and illustrative of the kinds of fun awaiting young families on the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ various properties.

In this case, we stayed at Chewonki’s Debsconeag Lake Wilderness Camps, which is on land leased from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands at the Nahmakanta Public Reserved Land. This former sporting camp now is operated as a girls’ camp. When camp is not in session, the camp is managed by Chewonki for public stays. Cabins and more contemporary yurts are available. We tried out a yurt.

To reach our yurt, we traveled from Kokadjo to Nahmakanta, which is located within the “100-Mile Wilderness” region of Appalachian Trail fame, though our vehicle gave us access to within about a mile of the camps. From there, it was a pleasant paddle to bring ourselves and our gear to the camps.

The yurt was round, canvas-walled and wood-floored. A door somewhat shorter than my height (as I was reminded a few times) led into the circular abode, complete with sets of bunk beds, a futon and several dressers. A clear, round cap sat atop the roof, which rose up like a circus tent toward a single point.

As it turned out, the roughly 25-foot-wide yurt was a great feature for our young child and her sixth-grade cousin. Unlike being in a confined tent, my daughter could run and play inside, and with several powerful thunderstorms passing through, the cover and space was ideal. At night, we laid under the clear dome and watched as lightning arced across the portal, brightly illuminating the branched silhouettes of the spruce limbs looming above.

The massive thunderstorms that rolled through brought home the feeling of an elemental experience. Likewise, the craggy ledges above the far side of the camps across a serene cove spoke of things sturdy and almost timeless. Hours of clearing skies followed the storms, and mists rose like ancient fire smoke from the small valleys running in several directions from Fourth Debsconeag Lake.

One of those gentle notches across the lake leads to a portage trail to Third Debsconeag Lake. We listened as loons wailed during our paddle to this historic link between two of the eight Debsconeag water bodies. Along the portage trail, we listened to a lively stream and witnessed an abundance of various mushroom species, which intrigued my daughter immensely and kept us on our toes ensuring they did not make their way into her mouth.

The combination of mists, mushrooms, the portage trail and the loons was just the type of atmosphere in which I hoped to surround my daughter and her cousin. This is the timeless, unspoken and indescribable essence I wanted to share with my family on this particular weekend.

Chewonki’s Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Camps is not the only place to find accommodations on stunning Maine Public Reserved Lands. In fact, it’s not the only leased set of camps in the Nahmakanta Public Reserved Land unit. Nahmakanta Lake Camps is another private accommodation at Nahmakanta, though it technically is on National Park Service land sandwiched within the Nahmakanta unit at the north end of scenic Nahmakanta Lake. Both provide access to fishing, trails, paddling and other outdoor activities associated with remote, scenic woods and waters.

Elsewhere on Bureau of Parks and Lands properties, other sporting camps provide rustic comfort and access to great outdoor resources. While not a full list, a few bear mentioning here. Red River Camps, located on leased land in Aroostook County’s 21,871-acre Deboullie Public Reserved Land unit, provides access to wonderful hiking and fishing outside the doors of this traditional sporting camp.

Two sporting camps can be visited within the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Nugent’s Camps on the eastern shore of Chamberlain Lake and Jalbert’s Camps further north on Round Pond both provide lodging alternatives to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway’s typical tenting experience.

Whether for adults or families, tent camping is a great way to get out and enjoy Maine’s outdoors. It’s nice to have options, though, and camps open to the public provide a lodging alternative. They are great places to stay and are especially attractive if you have a massive thunderstorm, a wound-up little kid or both. Learn more about Maine state parks and public lands at parksandlands.com.

Rex Turner is the outdoor recreation planner for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

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