North Maine Woods director to step down in 2020

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Since 1971, an organization called North Maine Woods has been providing remote outdoor recreational opportunities amid a vast expanse of privately owned commercial forest that encompasses more than 3.5 million acres in this state.

North Maine Woods was formed in 1971 with the aim of carefully managing and balancing outdoor recreational access and commercial logging.

There are about 30 woodland owners who comprise North Maine Woods and serve on its board of directors. North Maine Woods executive director, Al Cowperthwaite, has been at the helm almost since its inception. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the organization. Cowperthwaite has advised his board that he will step down from his position in the fall of 2020. Cowperthwaite’s assistant, Mike McLellan, is his likely successor and will have some big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively.

Under Cowperthwaite’s capable, steady leadership North Maine Woods has been a model for how to successfully meld industrial logging and outdoor recreation activities with a minimum of user conflicts.

Today, there are 8 staffed checkpoints and 7 automated checkpoints that oversee and monitor outdoor recreational traffic into the North Maine Woods holdings. North Maine Woods is a non-profit undertaking. The proceeds from gate fees are used to pay for part-time staffers who man the checkpoints and maintain the 350 campsites and 211 outhouses used by outdoor recreationists.

A recent studio guest on Maine Outdoors, Cowperthwaite said that, while North Maine Woods gets a lot of hunters, fishermen and campers, October grouse hunters represent the largest user group by far. “We get more grouse hunters through the gates each year than all of the other users combined,” he said.

As anyone who has ever checked through a North Maine Woods checkpoint will tell you, the part-time staffers at these checkpoints are always friendly and helpful. This is a tribute to the managers who find the right people to represent the face of North Maine Woods.

There is another friendly and helpful aspect of North Maine Woods. Check out their newly up-graded website:

This fall as you patrol the many logging roads behind the North Maine Woods gates for your favorite game bird drive safely and keep an eye out for heavily laden logging trucks, who always have the right of way, cautions Cowperthwaite.

If you run into a big guy in a red-checkered shirt at one of the gates, it just might be Al making his rounds. Wish him well in his retirement. His dedication and leadership at North Maine Woods is, indeed, a north woods legacy.

Happy trails Mr. Cowperthwaite.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at

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