One of the most beautiful spots on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway is Long Lake Dam. The actual dam is long gone, having washed out many years ago but the remnants still remain.
The St. John Lumber Company built the first dam at the outlet of Long Lake in 1907, but it washed out the same year. A second, more permanent dam, was completed in 1911. This timber crib structure was made of huge pine logs at a cost of $50,000.
The dam measured 700 feet across. It held back a 15-foot head of water and had 18 gates that were eight feet wide. When the gates were opened, the force could be felt in Van Buren, more than 100 miles downriver.
The dam gave the lumber company better control of the water flow down the Allagash River and added several days to the log drive. It was so effective in the 1910s and 1920s that the dam was credited with stabilizing the economy of the upper St. John River basin.
During the winter of 1926-27, Edouard “King” Lacroix had the dam remodeled, raising the head to 17 feet and removing some of the gates near shore. The dam was discontinued a few years later.
Today, two remote campsites occupy the location that was once a major development in the AWW. It is one of the most remote sites in the waterway, being almost 10 miles upstream from Henderson Brook Bridge and about seven miles from the bridge at the Realty Road crossing.
The campsites sit up high and dry on the east side of the river on what was once part of the earthen fill that controlled the waters of the Allagash. The remnants of the dam are known to hold big fat brook trout that lay under the rocks and planking at the old dam site.
The waterway recommends that visitors portage around this hazardous area, but skilled canoeists may run or line down through the old dam on river left. Be sure to scout the site well before attempting to navigate this drop. The degree of difficulty changes with the water level.
Back in my younger days, I worked the Long Lake area cleaning campsites. I would head down the river once every two weeks to do maintenance on the campsites on the river all the way to Round Pond. I would stay overnight at the pond and then head back upriver the next day.
On one particular trip, the river was running high from several days of rain. The most difficult part of the trip was carrying your canoe, motor and gear around Long Lake Dam. I kept thinking to myself, I can run up through the old dam at this water level.
When I came around the bend in the river before the dam, I saw a canoe with motor shoot up through the old gate on river right. I decided at that moment, I was going to give it a try. I got up a full head of speed and used the eddy to stay out of the main current. When I hit the sluiceway I was able to get about halfway up and then I came to a complete stop right in the middle of the old gate.
I backed off the throttle of my 5½-horsepower outboard and the current took the canoe straight back. I went to the landing to talk with the people who had just run up through the old dam. It was the infamous Bob Jalbert, from Jalbert’s Camps on Round Pond, guiding a group from National Geographic magazine.
I asked him how big his motor was. He replied, “5½-horse, same as yours.” So I took some of the tools out of my 20-foot Grumman canoe and gave it another try.
I gave the little outboard full throttle and got just a little further than I did on the first try. By that time, I had quite an audience taking pictures while I was sitting there going neither forward nor backward. I decided to try poling while running the motor but that almost ended in disaster!
I went ashore thinking I had been “showed up” by Bob Jalbert. Bob met me at the landing and told me, with a smile, that he was running a 10-horsepower on his canoe. His son, Greg, helped me line my canoe up through the old dam on the other side of the river. I felt a lot better knowing that the only reason I couldn’t make it up through was that I didn’t have quite enough power.
Spring is here and there is no better time to go fishing than right now. May is traditionally the best time of the year for catching those big native brookies of the Allagash. You had better plan a trip to the waterway before the dog days of summer warm the water and cool off the fishing.
For general information on the AWW, go to: www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ or call 941-4014, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Division of Parks and Public Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, ME 04401.
Matthew LaRoche is superintendent of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.