The East Branch of the Penobscot River is the centerpiece of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and has a rich history dating back 11,000 years.
Soon after the glaciers melted, native people began to inhabit the area. Traditionally they used the river as a vast transportation network, seasonally searching for food, furs, medicines, and many other resources and considered it a centerpiece of their culture and spiritual values.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, visitors came from afar to approach and climb Katahdin by way of the East Branch watershed. Visitors included the famous mountain guide, Rev. Marcus Keep, in 1846, and the artist Frederick Church in 1855.
Henry David Thoreau had hoped to climb the mountain by going up Wassataquoik Stream, which flows into the East Branch, when he descended the East Branch in 1857. He had previously climbed most of the way up Katahdin from the south in 1846, but had to give up the idea because one of his companions had injured his feet.
In 1879, the young Theodore Roosevelt was guided up the mountain by William “Bill” Sewall from Island Falls. To the dismay of his guide, he lost a boot crossing Wassataquoik Stream making it necessary to hike in his spare moccasins.
The Appalachian Mountain Club held their August camps in the area in 1887 and again in 1916, using Wassataquoik Stream for their approach.
A party including Percival Baxter visited in 1920, before he became governor of Maine.
In 1939, young Donn Fendler was lost as a twelve-year-old boy on the mountain for nine days, beat the odds, and survived by following Wassataquoik Stream down to the East Branch where he was ultimately spotted across from Lunksoos Camp. He later authored “Lost on a Mountain in Maine.”
The East Branch watershed also has a rich logging history beginning in the 1840s with 11 million board feet of logs sent down Wassataquoik Stream during peak operations. Log drives in Maine were abandoned in the 1970s and a vast network of logging roads has taken over as the means of transporting wood to area saw and paper mills.
Today, the National Monument provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities including paddling, hiking, camping, bird and wildlife watching, fishing, biking, and, seasonally, hunting, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. Go to nps.gov/kaww for more information.
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters is a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the outstanding natural beauty, ecological vitality, and distinctive cultural resources of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and surrounding communities for the inspiration and enjoyment of all generations. Join us at friendsofkatahdinwoodsandwaters.org.