Aroostook has more acres of heavy woods than any other Maine county and only two major state roads that run from the southernmost tip of the county in Danforth, north to Madawaska and Fort Kent at the Canadian border.
Much of the woods look impenetrable to the casual eye, but for those who live in there, traveling the woods highway system is common practice, often with pleasant surprises like moose browsing in a roadside bog or a mama bear hustling twin cubs across the gravel road and into the shelter of heavy fir trees.
Woods roads have been a part of Maine’s timber history for centuries, and more frequently since river-running of logs to downstream mills was ended. Now, with more sophisticated cutting methods and better equipment, roads are cut into the woodlands, and logging trucks haul massive loads of logs to mills and other processing sites. Although the timber companies own the land and roads, they allow public access to wild places most people never get to see.
While we’ve been traveling those highways for years to fish or hunt or simply go camping with the kids, we’d never ventured west of Route 11 until a recent Sunday. After weeks of record-breaking high temperatures, the weather finally cooled.
We set out early in the morning for the North Maine Woods, which for nearly a half-century has kept millions of acres of woodlands open to the public. All those woodlands are laced by woods roads.
We checked in at Six Mile Gate in Ashland, and Jody, the attendant, advised us about fees, registered us, and handed us a guidebook with rules and regulations, and a map. We set out west on the wide gravel road, heading to Chamberlain Lake, part of the Allagash Waterway. Because it was Sunday, we didn’t have to worry about logging trucks, but people were heading out for the day or back home after a week of camping, fishing, or hiking.
It’s fairly easy during daylight to know if there are vehicles approaching because of the dust from the dirt roads, but be sure to roll up the car windows because the dust is near choking. And then there are the single-lane bridges – a little daunting, but perfectly safe to cross.
We stopped along the way to check out camping sites maintained by NMW and to bemoan the lack of water in the rivers and brooks that lace the land. But two hours out we realized that so vast are the woodlands and the twisting, turning nature of the roads, there was no way to make it to Chamberlain and back easily. As we looked for a side road to turn around, we spotted a sign for Chandler Lake Camps and decided we had a little time to explore.
Chandler Lake is a gem. Established in 1902 as a sporting camp by Almond Currier and Roach Adams, there were several owners before Jason and Sheralyn Bouchard bought it in 1997. The camp is the only one on 417-acre Chandler Lake, noted for terrific fly fishing and great hunting. Perfect for a sporting camp.
When we arrived, Jason and other employees were replacing a weathered log in the dining hall. He was gracious enough to take a minute to chat, but we knew that he had other guests coming, so we headed back out, resolving to come back for a stay. With five cabins, a lodge and dining hall with home cooking, it is really all that any sportsman or woman could ask for.
We wound our way back out. Traffic was lighter, and as we checked out at Six Mile, Jody told us to come back soon. We plan to. You should too.
Jan Grieco is a retired college instructor and former reporter for The Forecaster. She lives in Perham, where she farms and lives off the land.