Outdoors

Appalachian Mountain Club opens largest Maine wilderness lodge to date

Posted July 06, 2017, at 1:46 p.m.
Last modified July 06, 2017, at 3:22 p.m.

TOWNSHIP 1, RANGE 12, Maine — Standing on a wooded hill above Second Roach Pond, deep in the Maine wilderness, the new Medawisla Wilderness Lodge and Cabins opened to the public on July 1, offering its guests comfortable beds, hot showers, home-cooked meals, and a beautiful basecamp for outdoor adventures.

The off-the-grid campus of log buildings, a construction project that cost more than $6 million, is the most recent addition to Appalachian Mountain Club’s ever-growing network of wilderness lodges and trails east of Moosehead Lake. And with room to house more than 75 guests, it’s AMC’s largest facility in Maine yet.

“It’s a very comfortable way of getting out and experiencing the woods without having to worry about sleeping in your tent, setting up and worrying about the weather, and all that sort of stuff,” said Dan Rinard, operations manager for AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative.

Medawisla Wilderness Lodge and Cabins was funded through an ongoing fundraising campaign for AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative, a conservation strategy that combines outdoor recreation and community involvement with resource protection and sustainable forestry. Established in 2003, the initiative has since resulted in the conservation of 70,000 acres in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness region. And on that land, AMC has created more than 120 miles of public trails and opened three wilderness lodges: Little Lyford, Gorman Chairback and Medawisla.

“One of the things I’m most excited about this lodge is the diversity of options,” said Rinard as he stood on the balcony of Medawisla Lodge recently. “We have the self-service cabins down below, and then up to the more deluxe experience of cabins with private bathrooms up here.”

Accessed on miles of logging roads that snake through the Maine wilderness east of Kokadjo, Medawisla is a breath of civilization in a seemingly endless forest. The campus includes a boat launch and waterfront pavilion, two bunkhouses, a bathhouse and nine private cabins, all tied together by the central lodge, which features a spacious dining room, lounge, kitchens, bathrooms and sauna.

Just a few days before the facility’s official opening, work crews were busy with the finishing touches — planting gardens, smoothing pathways and staining cabin porches.

“The landscaping is coming together,” Rinard observed, pointing out newly planted trees in fresh mounds of mulch.

More than 50 local workers, including a dozen Maine contractors, were employed in the construction of the facility. And more than 80 percent of the construction budget of about $5 million was spent within 100 miles of the site, according to the project’s general contractor, E.W. Littlefield & Sons, Inc., of Hartland.

“Of that, about $2.5 million was spent right in Greenville,” said Dwayne Littlefield, vice president of E.W. Littlefield & Sons. “Subcontractors, suppliers, fuel, repairs, the list goes on and on.”

While Medawisla is a completely new construction, elements of the build — including its name — were taken from the old Medawisla sporting camps, constructed on the property in the 1950s and purchased by AMC in 2006. For a few years, AMC ran operations out of the camps, but in 2012, they closed its doors for a major renovation.

“When we looked at the old lodge and did our assessment after closing it down, the buildings were fairly run down and we decided it was a better long-term option to tear everything down and rebuild,” said Rinard. “That gave us the freedom to really look at how we fit the new facility into the landscape.”

For example, the main lodge was moved back from the water and placed on a hill so that it has less impact on the environment. Other eco-friendly aspects of the facility are its modern composting toilets. And the main lodge’s roof is covered with 60 solar panels that produce more than 19 kilowatts of energy — an amount AMC predicts will account for at least 60 percent of the lodge’s energy consumption, with the rest being produced by a generator.

Smooth, wide trails connect the lodge, cabins, pavilion and boat launch. And the cabins were split into two small communities — one by the water, and the other set back on the hill.

“In terms of designing it and deciding what we wanted the facility to look like, we really wanted to recreate and capture some of the aspects of the old Medawisla — screened in porches, self service cabin options, things like that,” Rinard said.

The cabins by the water have their own kitchenettes, so guests can cook their own meals. Or they can head up to the main lodge with the other guests for a home-cooked meal served each evening and morning, with much of the food sourced locally and guests’ dietary restrictions and preferences taken into account. AMC also provides a bagged lunch for their guests to take on their daily adventures.

“We think that food is really important to the experience,” Rinard said. “Everybody likes to eat. Everybody likes to eat well … We try to create really high quality meals here so people coming up and staying in the cabins, and going out on the adventures — whether they’re mountain biking or paddling or hiking — can come back and have a really healthy and delicious meal.”

The main lodge of Medawisla includes a spacious dining room built specifically to accommodate groups, with a high ceiling and sound dampening panels to minimize echo.

“One of the things we often hear at Lyford and Gorman is that people would really like to have their wedding there or have group events there and they’re just not quite big enough,” Rinard said.

Rinard said Medawisla may be a good option for weddings and other group events such as school field trips, especially with the option of using the waterfront pavilion, which includes rows of picnic tables, a small building to prepare food, and a covered space for grills.

Another aspect of Medawisla that makes it great for educational programs and families is the nature of the surrounding trail network, which includes plenty of trails that are easy enough for beginner hikers, bikers and skiers. And with the lodge located on a quiet, shallow cove of Second Roach Pond, it’s the perfect place to learn paddling skills, fish and swim. Plus, lodge guests have access to a full fleet of canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards for no extra charge.

“Really great paddling experiences are available here on Second Roach Pond, and into our Roach Ponds Reserve Area, where we have remote paddle-to campsite options for canoe camping,” Rinard said. “We also have a robust network of mountain bike trails that we’ve been building up over the last several years, a mix of cross-country style family-friendly mountain biking as well as a little bit more technical single track.”

For hikers, there are several nearby hiking trails, including the easy Hinkley Cove Trail, which starts right at Medawisla and travels around the edge of the pond to a long sandy point. There’s also the longer Lakeside Trail and the more challenging Shaw Mountain Trail.

During the winter, cross-country skiing is the main activity, as guests ski from one wilderness lodge to the next. In fact, AMC’s Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback lodges are only accessible by ski during the winter, but Medawisla will be accessible by vehicle year round.

“That’s a major differentiator for this lodge,” Rinard said. “The road system is stable enough that we can plow in year round, so people will be able to drive here in the winter and have a winter experience in the heart of the Maine woods without having to get there on their own power.”

On June 27, as Rinard stood on the balcony of the main lodge, he pointed out two details of the construction that are impossible to miss. Each of the two corner posts of the balcony railing were intricately carved into loons swimming through cattails.

Medawisla is the Abenaki word for the common loon, Rinard explained. A number of the contractors for the project came up with the idea, hired chainsaw artist Josh Landry to carve the loons, and gifted them to the lodge.

“We’re proud we were a part of [the project],” Littlefield said. “To think we built something like that … It was a challenging job because of the location, but we got through those challenges. It was just a tremendous project for us to be a part of.”

To learn about AMC’s Maine Wilderness Lodges and the Maine Woods Initiative, and to book your stay at the new Medawisla Lodge and Cabins, visit the AMC website at outdoors.org.

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