For thousands of years, Webster Lake ( see page 50 of the DeLorme’s atlas) at the northwest corner of Baxter State Park, was nothing more than a quiet headwater pond in the drainage that fed what we now know as the East Branch of the Penobscot River. A few small brooks and underground springs were its only contributories. Its outlet stream ran east toward Matagammon Lake and eventually into the Penobscot.
This quiet existence all changed in 1841 when lumbermen dammed and flooded neighboring Telos and Chamberlain lakes, raising their level more than ten feet, to the point where they overflowed into a canal that was dug between Telos and Webster Lake. With the water came hundreds of thousands of logs cut from the virgin shores of Chamberlain, Telos, Eagle and Churchill lakes. All of these logs were bound for the many sawmills that lined the banks of the Penobscot River in Bangor and other towns.
Along with the several dams and the canal, the Allagash headwaters in those days also
boasted a railroad, a log tramway, steamships, steam-powered log haulers, huge logging camps and a large farm to supply food and silage to the camps. This is the stuff wilderness is made of.
Webster is a quiet place again these days — part of a Maine Public Reserve land unit. This morning the only sound was from the loons on one side of the pond which echoed hauntingly against a hill on the other. The water was a flat calm mirror at sunrise and the air temperature was already in the 70’s. It promised to be a hot day but we had cool water under our keel and a decision to stop and swim never required a unanimous vote.
Dave and I canoed west on Webster toward the inlet stream that still flows down the old canal from Telos Lake. The Old Town moved effortlessly over the flat water and I was again thankful that the hiking portion of the trip was behind me.
Despite my best efforts, I had been unable to speak to anyone who was familiar with the inlet and any portage trails that might lead up to Telos Dam. We were relieved to find an easy trail over an old woods road that ascended to Telos on the south side of
the stream. The trail wasn’t steep but it was a mile long. My canoe is a beautiful, handcrafted piece of working art — but it’s an 85 pound piece of artwork. Dave is convinced that this portage is the only reason I invited him on the trip. In my defense — I also like his coffee.
Telos Dam was bigger than I expected and a big rambling dam keeper’s residence sat next to it. Bangor Hydro generated electricity here up until the 1960’s. The residence is scheduled for demolition later this year. This dam marks the official southern terminus of the federally designated Allagash Wilderness
Waterway. With a few exceptions, old buildings are considered to be not in keeping with the maximum wilderness character that the waterway strives for. When the
waterway was created in 1966 many of the structures along its banks were demolished or burned.
After the portage, a last lunch of tuna surprise and another swim we continued on our way down Telos Lake toward the thoroughfare that connects with Chamberlain. A headwind kicked up on Telos and it required stopping for a few more swims — but we had made it almost to Chamberlain Bridge when we spied another canoe approaching from the opposite direction.
It proved to be Kevin Regan (affectionately known as “The Commander”) at the helm of his huge Old Town Tripper XL, along with Bob Goldman of South Portland in the bow. Kevin and Bob would be joining me on the Allagash portion of the trip. Dave Fisher planned to drive Kevin’s truck back home from Chamberlain Bridge. The Commander had come to warn me of high northwest winds and white caps on Chamberlain. The lake is famous for this.
He and Bob motored on to our destination at Nugents Camps while Dave and I switched out my gear after finishing our paddle to Chamberlain Bridge. I chatted with one of the rangers at the forest service cabin for an hour or more, hoping that the wind would drop as the afternoon waned. Also, after nine straight days on the trail, it felt great to sit on the cabin’s shady, screened porch, in a real chair with a back rest.
By the time I paddled solo into the open part of Chamberlain the wind had indeed decreased. The four miles of open lake paddling to Nugents proved to be less daunting than advertised — but still tiring. I was relieved to come around the point and find Bob and Kevin comfortably seated on the cabin porch at Nugent’s.
Tonight — a real bed to sleep in, maybe even a shower. And if I know Kevin Regan — tuna surprise will not be on the menu.