Self-Propelled Journal: August 14-15: Biking through the North Woods – Little Lyford and West Branch Pond Camps

August 14

We spent an amazingly quiet night in a bunk room at Shaw’s Boarding House in Monson. With five other travelers in our room, sprawled out on mis-matched twin beds, I anticipated a full-scale snoring festival.

But the good, tired feeling that comes from muscle-powered travel made us all sleep like babies.  And Shaw’s famous breakfast sent us out the door eager for more.

We biked eight miles along the Elliotsville Road and met Steve Tatko at the Borestone Sanctuary Gate.  Steve is the Land and Recreation Supervisor for the Applacahian Mount Club’s 66,500 acres of woodlands that stretch from Willimantic all the way north to the southern edge of the Nahmakanta Public Land unit. (Take a look at DeLorme’s Map 42.)


The parcel parallels the Appalachian Trail and includes much of the “100 mile wilderness” that was such a topic of conversation among the thru-hikers at Shaw’s.

The Club is dedicated to sustainable forestry as well as recreation and Steve’s job is to manage the property for both purposes.  He’s a local boy from Willimantic and had a wealth of information about both the history and current status of this huge, remote area.

Steve Tatko joined us for the ride.

We biked along active and abandoned woods roads from Borestone north through the Bodfish Intervale and crossed the Appalachian Trail as we worked our way around the west side of Barron Mountain.  (See DeLorme Map 41.)

Ben negotiating some tough terrain.

We made our way north to Long Pond and then to Little Lyford Lodge and Camps. Little Lyford is one of the several traditional sporting camps within the AMC property that the Club has refurbished and is now hosting guests.

These camps sit in the middle of some of the most scenic spots in the State.  Remote ponds, full of native trout are everywhere.  Gulf Hagas is a few miles away and the Barren-Chairback Mountain Range looms in the background.

Little Lyford Camps date back to the 1870’s.  The upgrades include modern bathhouses and dining facilities.  But the atmosphere is right out of the last century.

Dining room at Little Lyford Lodge.

The camp is full of families with young kids, couples seeking respite from their Portland apartments, and contract workers for the Dept. of IF&W.

We sat by a campfire after a great meal at the Lodge and then fell asleep in our cabin to the sound of loons on the nearby pond.

August 15

We left Lyford with a big breakfast under our belts and a bag lunch for the road.  Then we biked for miles along a gated road through AMC’s designated ecological preserve area.  This portion of the property (10,000 acres) is designated for no-harvest and no motorized access.

The road parallels the AT and clouds with occasional showers obscured the higher peaks as we passed by.  Partridges flushed repeatedly as the bikes approached.  (Note to self – the ecological preserve is not closed to hunting.)

By 1:00 pm we arrived at West Branch Pond Camps and found bigger game. A cow moose and her calf were wading in the pond directly in front of the camps. The background of this scene was dominated by White Cap Mountain which towers over the pond.

Relaxing at West Branch Pond Camps.

Eric Strimling, the fourth generation of his family to own and operate the camps, welcomed us.

On a short canoe trip around the pond between rain showers, Ben and I saw three other moose, an eagle and a blue heron.

These camps have been here since 1880.  The recent AMC land purchases and their focus on camp to camp ski trips has helped boost the number of winter visitors to West Branch Pond. Eric’s family-run operation lies halfway between AMC’s Little Lyford Camps and Mediwiola – another AMC refurbished  sporting camp.

By evening the rain showers were more frequent. We had supper with Eric in the camp kitchen where  we discussed north woods politics over heaping plates of New England boiled dinner.

Tonight there appears to be no letup in the rain.

This entry was posted in Kittery to Fort Kent, Maine Roads, Maine Trails by jimandrews. Bookmark the permalink.

About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine. Find Self-propelled on Facebook: