Letters to the editor:
April 17, 2012, Doug Campbell remembers Ralph Dolley at Russell Pond and raises questions.
(BPS Ranger Brendan Curran and Author John Neff respond with answers.)
I spent two glorious weeks with Ralph Dolley and two other kids in July or August 1956, the summer I was 14. I’m in the process of writing a youth novel based on that experience – and of the backpacking expedition my family took from Branch Ponds to Roaring Brook that led us to discover Ralph. I’m looking for people who might know the area better than I who could answer some of the questions I’ve encountered.
Here’s an example:
When did the logging in the Wassataquoik Valley begin and end?What is the nature (and name) of the stream that drains Russell Pond, and how far down does it connect with the Wassataquoik (I assume it must.) What type of trees (spruce? pine?) are (or were) on the island on Wassataquoik Lake?In my memory, that island and lake and the surrounding mountains make one of the most captivating scenes I’ve ever encountered.
I returned to Russell Pond in 1992 with my adult daughter for a week of hiking. At that time, everything seemed still familiar. Instead of Ralph playing his recorder sitting naked atop a forest boulder, the current ranger played the bagpipe at sunset (or maybe sunrise. Not sure.) But the forest and the trails were as I remembered them, although the distances were much shorter than I’d recalled.
I bought In Beyond Katahdin and am reading it. And I have ordered Mr. Neff's book and am eager to read that, too. (Editor: Katahdin: An Historic Journey by John Neff) So far, I'm reminded of many details about Ralph Dolley that I'd forgotten, but in general the picture that emerges is exactly what I recall.
– – Doug Campbell, Beverly, NJ
Editor: Brendan Curran and John Neff supplies answers to some of Doug’s questions.
In my book, Katahdin: An Historic Journey, there is a whole chapter on the lumbering era, including a goodly section about lumbering in the Wassataquoik region. There is a lot of material on the history of the various camps at Russell Pond and a number of references to Ralph Dolley. I recommend those passages to you - as well as the other chapters that deal with the human and cultural history of the mountain and region around it. Having said that, let me respond to a couple of your specific questions:
1. Logging in the Wassataquoik valley began in the 1830s or so and most of that era of logging ended around 1915 after a great fire swept the whole area. Then the region was left alone for a time until more recent years when some logging began to take place along Wassataquoik Stream closer to the East Branch where the trees had grown up from the mid 1800s and roads could take the logs to the mills.
2. I know of no name for the outlet stream from Russell Pond. It is not very long before that short outlet stream enters into Turner Brook that flows into the main branch of Wassataquoik Stream not too much further downstream. Turner Brook flows from Wassataquoik Lake and Six Ponds, etc.
3. I do not know what trees grew on Wassataquoik Lake island back years ago, but since I have been going there the primary growth is softwood. There is a lovely white pine stand at the southern end near the campsite. That gives way to stubbier growth as you go toward the northern end, but I cannot remember whether it was fir or spruce. A lot of krummholtz because of the strong winds, etc. If you need something definitive on that you would need to consult with the park naturalist, Jean Hoekwater. I agree on the beauty of that lake – it is one of my favorite places, anywhere.
Your fiction project sounds quite fascinating. I – and I am sure others – will be eager to learn about the finished product and how we can get copies. Members of Friends might want to learn of its publication as well. Good luck.
– John W. Neff, Winthrop, ME
I believe we may know each other, though it would have been a long time ago. I am the ranger who played the pipes when you and your daughter came to Russell Pond back in '92. If my memory serves me, you and your daughter camped at Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos as well as at Russell Pond. I think you had some rain during your trip. We spoke a bit about Scottish history and heritage, including events between Campbells and MacDonalds. … I am still rangering at Russell Pond although I sold the pipes about a year and a half ago. Never did sit on a boulder and play them naked though! Sometime in the last year or two, I heard that Ralph Dolley had recently passed away. It seems he was living in one of the western states. Don't quote me on this.
I may be able to help with some of your questions.
1. Most people peg the beginning of serious logging in the Wassataquoik Valley around Katahdin to the Tracy and Love operation that started in 1883. If you can find Myron Avery's article on the history of the Wassataquoik, you could read more - it's in a volume of the AMC's magazine, Appalachia, from back in 1923 or so. …Anyway, he mentions that when the Tracy and Love crew were clearing the stream for driving logs in their operation, they found huge cuts of pine logs stranded on boulders in the stream, indicating a prior operation and attempt to drive the stream. No one was sure who would have run that earlier drive. It seems that the old Wassataquoik Tote Road from the East Branch of the Penobscot up toward the Wassataquoik headwaters was started in the mid-1800's and developed better during the Tracy and Love era. The big fires went through the basin around the Stream and Russell Pond in 1884 and the more severe one in 1903. The last major operation in that area was run by Edward Draper, who cut everything into 4-foot pulp and was able to flush everything down the stream much easier than in long log form. There was a smaller fire around the vicinity of Little Wassataquoik Lake and South Pogy Mountain apparently, and I've heard that this was in 1915. By then, any logging operation would have been winding down or over.
2. I've followed the outlet of Russell Pond down to its junction with Turner Brook, which drains Wassataquoik Lake. I was never aware of a particular name for it, and it's a pretty small brook. The outlet is a rocky brook bed which winds through mixed woods about 0.4 miles from the pond to Turner Brook. At that point, Turner Brook flows mostly east about 0.8 miles to its confluence with the main branch of Wassataquoik Stream. Less than a half mile downstream is the confluence with the South Branch Wassataquoik where the Stream lean-tos are located.
2. The Island on Wassataquoik Lake, at least presently, has a mix of pine, spruce and fir on it. I wouldn't know what might have been there in the 50's. Toward the skinny western end of the island, jutting out toward the middle of the lake, the tall conifers are all permanently leaning to the east, bent by the wind which blows almost constantly through the cut in which the lake sits.
– Brendan Curran, Hope, ME
National Park questioned
I know that the National Park thing next door to the park is controversial, and I would like to share my concerns. If, for some reason, a National Park should spring up in the East Branch area, you could have people from all over the world standing next to Hathorn or Robar Ponds (something that will not be good for them) looking West and seeing something far more spectacular. Even if the park remained independent, it would forever change it in ways that we can only guess at. Most of them I suspect, not good. Keep things small, keep them close to Maine. Let the world marvel at Baxter, but please don’t give the world control of the area to the point that Baxter becomes a small garden at the end of a big dead-end highway. Why not just give the land to the State of Maine and let the Authority manage it? Keep the highway small, make Baxter larger. Governor Baxter’s vision for the future of the area is still the best one.… I will be joining Friends of Baxter sometime in the near future, and I hope to volunteer next summer for a couple of days. Right now, for me, joining the discussion on the proposed National Park appears to be no fun compared to spending time in Baxter Park itself. My trip to Middle Fowler was an opportunity for me to introduce a friend to the joys of single-leg backpacking in the backcountry. We were alone on the pond both nights and on one evening I retired early to the tent while he played his penny whistle in the dusk. We both travelled home physically tired and emotionally rested. The Park is truly a special place.
– Bill Reitsma, Orrington, ME
Feasibility Study for National Park
Just read my copy of the Fall 2011 Newsletter of the Friends of Baxter State Park. In that newsletter, Barbara Bentley’s President’s Column on the subject of a feasibility study is the best presentation that I have read.
– Charlie Cirame, Millinocket, ME
Huber Parcel donated to Park
Great news on the Katahdin Lake donation. I was thrilled to hear it. I am teaching three courses this quarter and am very slowly working through the materials I gathered in the fall on the history of Katahdin. Thought you and Bill would like to see one of my photos from the beach near the outlet, and part of the land the Huber Corporation donated. I love that spot and look forward to returning.
– Stan Tag, Bellingham, WA
You can imagine how I loved this quotation! Reminds me of a John Singer Sargent painting, in words:
Then away to the heart of the deep unknown, Where the trout and the wild moose are-
Where the fire burns bright and tent gleams white,
Under the northern star.
– Albert Bigelow Paine
I have just returned from teaching a plein air workshop in a “wilderness” resort called "Milford House," located in Southwest Nova Scotia, adjacent to Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobeatic Wilderness area. The cabins sit on the shores of two pristine lakes plied only by canoes and kayaks. I put quotations around “wilderness” because the cabins have electricity, indoor plumbing, and all the comforts of home. This includes mice, bats, and very vocal bull frogs. One could canoe from the Milford Lakes via the Mersey River to the sea; with some portages, depending on the season. For the sake of brevity, I have not included the routes one could take to do this, but this information is available if anyone is interested.
The Tobeatic Wilderness Area is the largest remaining wild area in the Maritimes, spanning parts of five counties. The region is characterized by unique barren and semi-barren landscapes with outstanding undisturbed glacial landforms including esker fields, moraines, kettles, and outwash plains. It protects remote and undisturbed wildlife habitat, protects expansive wetlands, pockets of old-growth pine and hemlock forest, and the headwaters of 9 major river systems flowing to both the Atlantic and Fundy coasts. Taken together with the neighboring Kejimkujik National Park and Historic Site, the Tobeatic Wilderness Area forms the central core of an expansive protected landscape within interior southwestern Nova Scotia.
I was given a book, The Tent Dweller, written in 1908 by Albert Bigelow Paine, which is a classic account of a three-week fishing adventure in this area. Paine is known for his biography of Mark Twain. His poems that accompany each chapter are humorous, and touching. Here’s an example that most of us can relate to if we’ve ever camped on the ground:
To-night, to-night, the frost is white, Under the silver moon; And lo, I lie, as the hours go by. Freezing to death in June.
I’ve been invited to teach again at the Lodge, and also to teach a workshop and have an exhibition at Kejimkujik next summer. I’m very happy about this, as it enables me to learn more about the park and meet other Nova Scotian artists. We share the same excitement about using art to encourage people to preserve wilderness. The director told me that they had had very little success in getting people involved in conservation until a local artist did a series of paintings of several wilderness areas that were threatened by development. Those paintings changed everything; the public responded and great progress was made.
The entire landscape of Kejimkujik is designated as a national historic site. With rich Mi’kmaw heritage, over 500 individual petroglyphs, tradition encampment areas and canoe routes, it is a cultural landscape that attest to the presence of the Mi’kmaq since time immemorial. Keji is most loved for its wilderness camping, where one goes from island to island via the lake.
I had a grand time, and just went back again in order to meet with the Director of Education at Kejimkujik National Park. We toured part of the park in order for me to select painting sites, and talk about a workshop there. They are so enthusiastic; basically said I can do whatever I'd like to do, and they will facilitate it all. There are some sites that are totally accessible, which would be good as I find many people who want to paint in these places are really not physically capable of hiking any distance with a full pack.
As I understand it, the iconic images of the park are only seen as you canoe from island to island in Kejimkujik Lake. It's a good-sized lake, and in late morning the waves and wind were impressive. I'm told that people are advised to do their traveling in early morning and evening, and plan to be at their destination all day. I'd love to do an island to island painting trip, and that one will have to be with some able-bodied souls!
Please do let me know if you have any questions. I'm very excited about this new opportunity to paint in NS.
– Evelyn Dunphy, W. Bath, ME
Editor’s note: Evelyn Dunphy was BSP Visiting Artist in 2009. She is one of a number of artists who portray the wilds of Baxter State Park in their work and were instrumental in supporting the addition of the Katahdin Lake lands to the Park in 2006.