Back in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway

By Walter Opuszynski 

The State of Maine has contracted the Northern Forest Canoe Trail to perform user impact assessments at all the campsites throughout the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW).

NFCT interns will collect some of the data using the same protocol that was used in a 2000 study. This will give AWW managers a unique insight; by comparing the two data sets they will be able to see how the degree of recreation use along the waterway in the past 15 years has impacted campsites and their accesses. This information will aid them in management decisions, whether installing stone steps, adding or subtracting campsites,  leaving it as is, or one of the many other mitigation techniques land managers have at their disposal.

Practicing measurements at the Highgate Center Campsite.
NFCT interns Robert and Brendan train by practicing measurements in Highgate Center, Vermont.

The two lucky fellows that will work their way through the waterway during the next 8.5 weeks are Robert Kacir and Brendan Shumway. They come from colleges that represent the bookends of the NFCT. Robert just graduated from Paul Smith’s College, outside of Saranac Lake, New York. Brendan is entering his senior year at the University of Maine Orono and has had the very professor who coordinated the 2000 survey!

As part of the survey NFCT is focusing collected data on:

  • Erosion at access points
  • Amount of vegetation cover between campsite cells
  • Amount of vegetation cover between campsite cells and the water
  • Area of compacted soils at campsites
  • Size of the campsite cell area

After practicing in Vermont, it was off to the Allagash, a mere 11 hour drive. As usual the AWW rangers were extremely helpful and hospitable. We were set up in a cabin located in the Thoroughfare, a narrow watercourse between Round Pond and Chamberlain Lake.

A quaint home base for week 1 in the AWW.
A quaint home base for NFCT interns during week 1 on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

We were fortunate to be able to have guidance from AWW Superintendent Matt Laroche and Chamberlain Ranger Chris Silsbee the first day we collected data in the waterway. With their guidance and feedback we were able to refine our collection techniques to ensure that we were getting the type of data that they would need to best manage the waterway.

Discussing collection protocols at the Thoroughfare Campsite.
Discussing collection protocols at the Thoroughfare Campsite.

The first day the blackflies must have smelt fresh blood, or maybe it took us a little time to get used to them because they didn’t seem as bad the next three days. It could also be that they took refuge from the winds that developed and blew during that time frame. With 30 mile-an-hour gusts, Chamberlain became a bit choppy. We hugged the northwest shore as we worked our way from campsite to campsite. The 21-foot Scott Canoe with 15 hp motor would bounce and crash with the chop, but maintained a secure stability.

Robert takes a clinometer reading at the Arm Campsite.
Robert takes a clinometer reading at Arm Campsite.

Measurement after measurement, Robert and Brendan quickly reduced their time per campsite until they had it all down to a routine. We determined that by the end of the 8.5 weeks they should be able to read each other’s minds. If it wasn’t for the beauty of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, I’m sure the measurements would quickly drive someone batty, but fortunately for Brendan and Robert, they are surrounded by some of the most beautiful surroundings available.

Sight seeing at the end of long day of measurements.
Sight seeing at the end of a long day of measurements.

Thanks to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation for making this summer’s work possible.