Standing on the rock dam at the western end of Second Roach Pond, the majestic profile of Mount Katahdin is plainly visible 20 miles or so northeast. Crystal clear water at my feet gurgles into the Roach River on its way to First Roach Pond and then to Moosehead Lake at Spencer Bay. I bend down with bandanna in hand to rinse off the sweat, dirt and bug spray, and revel in another day well spent in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness.
Tucked into the hillside a good stone’s throw from the outlet is the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Medawisla Lodge and a series of cabins, the third and newest such facility on AMC’s 75,000 acres of conservation and recreation land in the region, after those at Little Lyford Pond and Gorman Chairback on Long Pond. On this perfect early summer day, I had come to see for myself what all the hubbub was about, and then hit the trails nearby.
So, after a proper tour and lunch, I headed for Shaw Mountain, where AMC trail crews had cut a path to the col between the north and south summits. The hike up yielded fabulous views north over Second Roach Pond to the mountain skyline of Baxter State Park, with more panoramas to be opened when the trail is completed later this year. Later on, with time to spare, I crossed the Roach River on an old snowmobile bridge and traveled a few pleasant miles on the Hinkley Cove Trail, one of several that emanate from Medawisla Lodge.
A look at AMC’s Medawisla Summer Trail map shows that Shaw Mountain Trail and Hinkley Cove Trail are just two of an extensive network of existing and planned trails in the area of Second Roach Pond, some 18 miles in all. From hiking and mountain biking in summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter, there are plenty of options for human-powered recreation around the new lodge and cabins. Add to that miles of canoeing and kayaking, and some pretty good fishing on four remote ponds.
With Medawisla as the northern anchor, skiers will now be able to trek from lodge to lodge on groomed trails connecting West Branch Pond Camps (privately owned), Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. This outstanding multiday adventure will reward not only with miles of great skiing and wonderful winter scenery, but a good measure of comfort each evening as well, like hot showers, a wood-fired sauna and hearty meals.
AMC has been hard at work conserving land and creating recreation infrastructure in the 100-Mile Wilderness since 2003, when the club purchased the 37,000-acre Katahdin Iron Works Tract. In 2009, AMC added the abutting 29,500-acre Roach Ponds Tract, securing the missing link in what is now a 63-mile corridor of protected land, which includes properties owned by The Nature Conservancy, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, and the National Park Service. In 2015, AMC purchased 4,300 acres on wild and trail-less Baker Mountain (3,520 feet), the largest chunk of subalpine terrain outside of Katahdin. The club then bought 4,000 acres around Silver Lake in 2016.
The aptly named “Maine Woods Initiative” is the crucible of AMC’s remarkable efforts in landscape-scale conservation, sustainable forest management, backcountry recreation, environmental education and community partnerships in the 100-Mile Wilderness. AMC has established a 27,000-acre ecological reserve to protect the headwaters of the West Branch of the Pleasant River. Local crews harvest 5-6,000 cords of wood annually on AMC land. The club has built 70 miles of new hiking, mountain biking and ski trails, and 16 remote campsites. Three traditional Maine sporting camps have been opened to the public. Hundreds of local school kids have been reached through outdoor experiential learning programs.
Overall, AMC’s operations have had a significant impact on the local Piscataquis County economy, to the tune of $2.75 million in 2015, or nearly $19 million from 2003 through 2015.
To learn more about AMC’s “Maine Woods Initiative” and plan a hiking visit to their Maine Woods Conservation and Recreation Area, go to www.outdoors.org/conservation/maine-woods.