ST. JOHN PLANTATION, Maine — About 40 outdoor enthusiasts got the answer they wanted Friday night when a major northern Maine landowner agreed to relocate a recently erected gate limiting access to a popular fishing and camping spot.
“After hearing from local residents, both North Maine Woods and Irving Woodlands have agreed to relocate the one steel gate on the access road to Third Pelletier Pond to beyond the pond and allowing free day use access to that location again,” representatives from NMW and Irving said in a joint statement Friday night.
For years residents in northern Maine have enjoyed unlimited access to the fishing and camping opportunities at Third Pelletier Brook Lake on private land managed by North Maine Woods.
That changed this summer when several of the Irving Woodlands-owned roads leading to the popular fishing spot were blocked with steel gates, largely in response to incidents of vandalism, according to the landowner organization’s executive director.
“We hope this change results in a workable balance between local recreational use for our neighbors near the lake and managing access to our forest,” Al Cowperthwaite, executive director of North Maine Woods, said in the joint statement with Toby Pineo, Irving Woodlands supervisor of roads.
The gate in question had gone up earlier this summer and, according to some at Friday’s meeting, created a travel hardship for residents wanting to drive to Third Pelletier Pond, several miles southeast of St. Francis.
“I’ve been going into the woods for 30 years,” Judy Jandreau, longtime outdoors enthusiast said at the meeting. “Third [Pelleter] Pond is the best place for us and we want to keep that access for whenever we want to go.”
Irving Woodlands is one of 30 private landowners making up the 3.5 million acre organization of the North Maine Woods and is the owner of the land around Third Pelletier Pond.
The state’s great ponds law stipulates all lakes and ponds over 10 square acres belong to the people of Maine, however, vehicular access to those bodies of water is often over company roads, which are maintained at the owner’s expense and liability.
Controlling and managing who is on those roads — most of which are used to transport timber and equipment in and out of the woods — is the purpose of the North Maine Woods organization, Cowperthwaite said.
The network of 15 gates scattered around the NMW’s perimeter does just that.
Access to the lakes, ponds, rivers, canoeing, camping and fishing opportunities on all that private land is available to all residents who pay the $6.50 day-use fee upon entering through a gate.
“For less than it takes to earn in an hour at minimum wage, you can travel throughout the entire 3.5 million acres,” Cowperthwaite said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”
The current question of access arose when Irving Woodlands decided to open an area of logging that had been left alone for several decades, thus creating or recovering new roads and access points.
“If we can control by taking down names of who is going in and out we can avert a lot of problems for those 30 landowners,” Cowperthwaite said. “We can keep the land open to the public if there are no problems.”
Several residents questioned the fairness of closing off what had been their traditional access point into the lake and forcing them to drive an additional 15 miles round trip by way of the St. Francis checkpoint.
“Why not give us who use it a key to that gate to Third Pelletier?” one resident asked. “I’d even pay the dollar to have it made.”
The people attending the meeting, Cowperthwaite and Pineo said, were not the problem. Rather, it’s those who have historically destroyed the facilities at Third Pelletier Brook Lake that created the situation.
“I would wager no one in this room has done anything to damage the property,” Pineo said. “Irving wants to be a good neighbor and we want people to enjoy the land [and] we don’t want to limit people but we do want a bit of control.”
In exchange for relocating the Third Pelletier gate to allow free access by road and for North Maine Woods’ staff to continue maintenance of the site, Cowperthwaite said residents need to step up.
“We hope you people will make the trip to St. Francis and pay a camping fee if you are going to camp there,” he said. “And we ask you to be the eyes up there and keep a lookout for people who are causing problems and vandalizing the area.”
He added there exists a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone vandalizing property in the North Maine Woods.
A second gate cutting access to Horseshoe Pond by way of the Lee Theriault Road will remain in place for now, but Pineo and Cowperthwaite said they are working on a solution in that area to allow better vehicular access.
“Everything we are doing to control and manage access is to try to avoid ‘No Trespassing’ signs,” Pineo said. “That is what the North Maine Woods organization is for.”
Anyone wishing to contact Cowperthwaite or Irving Woodlands directly on the issue of access may do so by calling North Maine Woods at 435-6213 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. At Irving, contact Peter Tabor at 834-5767.