Police & Fire

State plans to build in Allagash protected zone raises opposition

By Julie Harris, Bangor Daily News Staff

The state’s plans to build storage buildings and make other changes at three ranger stations in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway has raised opposition from a group including guides led by the waterway’s former superintendent.

The Maine Bureau of Public Lands received permits from the Land Use Planning Commission in May 2023 to construct storage buildings for housing equipment at the Chamberlain, Churchill Dam and Michaud Farm ranger stations, according to Mark DeRoche, the waterway’s superintendent.

Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash, a group led by former superintendent Tim Caverly, opposes the construction, saying it violates the prime directive to keep the Allagash as wild as possible, specified in 1966 when the Maine Legislature established the 92.5-mile wilderness waterway.

The issue is expected to be a major topic of discussion at the regular meeting of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Advisory Council meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Friday, March 15, at the Maine Bureau of Public Lands, 106 Hogan Road, fourth floor, in Bangor. It is open to the public.

“It’s about what we can do to be the best stewards possible and leave the best legacy behind,” DeRoche said.

The construction will occur on parcels that already have buildings and will house equipment such as boats, tractors, canoes, lawn mowers and other equipment needed, DeRoche said Friday. The equipment is on the properties already, covered with tarps for storage, although there are plans to buy a new boat that has not been chosen yet, he said. 

Storage buildings will clean up the ranger sites, and make us better stewards of the waterway, he said.

Of the six buildings planned, five will not be seen from the waterway, and the one at Churchill Dam will be visible for safety purposes, DeRoche said. 

Other changes include to repair existing structures, and make enhancements for visitors to the ranger stations. No current wilderness will be destroyed, he said.

The projects have not gone out to bid yet, but the funding to build them will come from $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act money received by the Bureau of Public Lands, which is under the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, to make improvements to state parks.

The cost is estimated at $1.2 million.

“This fiscal boon has caused the Bureau of Parks and Lands to lose sight of its management obligation to preserve, protect and enhance the wilderness character of Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway,” according to an information sheet produced by Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash.

The six buildings the state proposes will be built in the restricted zone, which is the most protected area of the waterway, Caverly said. 

He and Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash members said this project does not enhance the wilderness character of the restricted zone, which is the waterway’s primary goal, and goes against the spirit of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Allagash is part of that national system.

The group also said the type of boat the bureau wants is not in line with the wilderness management practices, is an unnecessary expense and is out of character for this waterway.

Citizens for Keeping the Wild suggested that the bureau look at building its storage units outside of the restricted zone, farther away from the waterway.

Members of Citizens for Keeping the Wild in Allagash includes Alexandra Conover Bennett, master Maine guide since 1978 and author; Matt LaRoche, waterway supervisor 2009-2021 and registered Maine guide; Tim Caverly, waterway supervisor 1981-1999 and author; and Rollin Thurlow, past president of the Allagash Alliance 1996-2006 and business owner.

The opposition group and the Maine Bureau of Public Lands encourages the public to attend Friday’s meeting in person or online.

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