Allagash Wilderness Waterway celebrates 50 years of paddling, camping, and conservation

The Allagash River of northern Maine is one of the premier rivers in this country for canoeing, fishing and camping. Running through a protected north woods forest corridor, the river system provides a mix of calm flat water, smooth fast water, easy rips, and Class II rapids (and of course, a few portages).

The land abutting the river is largely conifer forest, interspersed with bog lands and patches of hardwood forest. Game fish are plentiful, many moose feed at the water’s edge, and bald eagles are regular sentinels of the forest, perching high in the trees or soaring overhead.  State-maintained campgrounds are comfortable and help preserve the wilderness character of the river corridor.

A Working Forest

The Allagash and its tributary streams were once a major part of the lumber industry, transporting pine and other logs to saw mills further south, making Bangor the greatest lumber-shipping seaport in the world during the latter part of the 19th century. Although lumbering is still a major industry in northern Maine, rail and truck have replaced the rivers as the way to transport logs to the mills.


In the mid-20th century, the river was being studied as a potential source for hydropower, and the federal government was considering acquiring the river corridor for the creation of a national riverway. But the people of Maine, supported by many conservationists throughout the country, wanted the 92-mile long waterway to remain a free flowing river under state control.

Protecting the River

The Allagash River watershed was first suggested for public acquisition in “A Recreation Plan for Maine” published in 1956 by the Maine State Park Commission. Then in 1961, the National Park Service recommended that the federal government purchase the lands and waters of the waterway to preserve and protect them as a component of the National Park System (NPS). Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall strongly endorsed an NPS recommendation for the federal government to acquire almost three million acres of land and water to create an Allagash National Recreation Area.

But the State of Maine, preferring state control, prepared a less extensive counter-proposal in 1965. That state proposal, which included standards for wood harvesting within one mile of the watercourse, was eventually endorsed by Secretary Udall, the Maine Legislature, and voters of the State of Maine.

In 1966, laws creating the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) were enacted, and concurrently, a State bond issued in the amount of 1.5 million dollars to acquire a restricted zone—land within 400 to 800 feet of the normal high-water mark—was overwhelmingly approved by Maine voters.AWW_northern end_NFCTBy 1972, acquisition of the restricted zone, with the exception of the Telos and Lock Dam lots, was complete with the assistance of federal money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Telos and Lock Dam lots were just recently acquired, finally completing the acquisition of all the restricted zone land in the waterway’s protected corridor.

Although the AWW has had a somewhat turbulent political history, in large part because of its success—with various user groups and stakeholders advocating for more or less access points and water crossings—one thing that everyone can agree on is that the Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a special place to be protected for future generations.

The Waterway’s founding legislation calls for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to, “preserve, protect, and develop the maximum wilderness character of the watercourse.” Now 50 years along, the waterway is in a pretty good place.

50th Anniversary Celebration

Wildlife artist Mark McCollough was commissioned to create a limited edition Allagash Anniversary print of a family portaging around Allagash Falls. Each print is signed and numbered by the artist. Mark is a well-respected Maine artist (he painted both of Maine’s loon and chickadee license plates) and he has canoed the waterway several times. We were very fortunate that Mark was willing to paint an original picture to raise funds for the AWW. The print can be viewed and ordered at

Rollin Thurlow, regarded as one of Maine’s finest wooden canoe builders, generously built and donated a special 50th anniversary edition of a 17½ foot Atkinson Traveler canoe. A true one-of-a-kind watercraft, it will be sold at an online auction by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail to benefit the waterway. The auction will be live August 1–September 1, 2016 at

Celebration at Churchill Dam, July 23: The State of Maine is hosting an open fire baking contest, bean hole bean supper with homemade ice cream, and there will be demonstrations by the Maine Forest Service, Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and others.  AWW staff will give tours of the boarding house and history center. There will be artifacts on display, chief among them a working Lombard Log Hauler. We will run canoe flows from Churchill Dam all day and provide shuttle service back to the dam. AWW50th logoBring your canoe, or rent one from outfitters who will be on hand. The day will close with music and a sing-a-long around a bonfire. We will open the field near the ranger station for weekend camping. See details at

Celebration at Town of Allagash, August 20: A second, grand celebration will have guest speakers, an ongoing waterway film showing, a paddle-and-pole canoe event, bean supper, booths, and special music to close the day. We will also have artifacts and a working Lombard Log Hauler on display at our Michaud Farm Ranger Station located about 12 miles upriver from town. See details at

Help celebrate 50 successful years of conservation for the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Come paddle the Allagash River and camp in our forest: a unique wild area, protected for you to enjoy.