River trips increased job knowledge and helped forge strong working relationships
By Jim Fahey
Aroostook County is canoe country. There are numerous navigable rivers and streams suitable for motoring and paddling. As a game warden, I always made it a point to run the waterways in my assigned district and surrounding area. It was important for a young warden to learn the access points, fishing holes, rapids, portages, camps and campsites on a particular body of water. A map can only show you so much. There is no substitute for actually being there.
Honing skill sets for handling a canoe with paddle or pole was important. Additionally, loading and tying a canoe down securely for travel over rough woods roads, setting up a motor bracket, outboard motor, splash guard and ballast took practice. The likelihood of being the first one to respond to an emergency in a remote area was far greater than in more populated areas of the state. Game wardens had to always be prepared for anything.
During my 12 years in The County, I was able to paddle or motor all or part of the following waters in western Aroostook and eastern Piscataquis Counties: Aroostook River, Allagash River, including Chase Rapids and Round Pond Rips. Additionally, Fish River, Machias River, South Branch of the Machias River, Munsungan Stream, Millinocket Stream, Mooseleuk Stream, Musquacook Stream, Clayton Stream and Beaver Brook. I also had opportunities to work on the St. John River, St. Francis River, Meduxnekeag River and Presque Isle Stream.
One of the more memorable trips was my first time on the Aroostook River with Warden Gary Sibley of the Eagle Lake District. We motored from the Aroostook River Fish and Game Club in Ashland to a take out in Washburn. We were both about 25 years old and ran it during high water in the spring of the year. I did some solo but also had a number of good trips with other members of the Department of Inland Fisheries Wildlife and the Department of Conservation.
Fisheries biologists and forest rangers also understood the importance of familiarizing themselves with the waters and the woods along them. I made multiple trips with Fisheries Division staff Derrick Cote, Frank Frost and Dave Basley. We were also accompanied at times by forest rangers Todd Weeks and Bill Greaves. Game warden Dave Milligan, who had been an Allagash Wilderness Waterway ranger for seven seasons, was an excellent canoeman, as were game wardens Dave Allen and Jeff Spencer. I paddled Millinocket Stream from the dam on Millinocket Lake to the forks of the Aroostook with Matt Libby Jr., when he was still in high school. I still remember our anticipation of running the Devil’s Elbow. He is now the owner of Libby Camps.
Besides learning the waterways, these trips also were good team-building experiences. We started early, ended late and ate well along the way. We gained insight and appreciation for each others’ job responsibilities and duties and learned a little about ourselves, as well.
There is no doubt that the wisdom and experience we acquired on those trips went beyond simply learning which way the water flowed. There was a sense of accomplishment and pride after the completion of each trip. I believe our firsthand knowledge of those waterways made us more credible and fostered the public’s confidence in their fish and wildlife officials.