Gardiner Pond and Gardiner Mountain are seen from the cab of the 49-foot-tall fire lookout tower atop Deboullie Mountain on Sept. 16, in Debouille Public Lands in the North Maine Woods. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN

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The organization that represents landowners who control more than 3.5 million acres of Maine forest have reopened those lands to day use, and hopes to reopen primitive camping sites to Maine residents beginning June 1.

North Maine Woods Inc. closed access to those campsites in early April, after Gov. Janet Mills included campgrounds and lodging establishments in a list of businesses to be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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According to North Maine Woods executive director Al Cowperthwaite, the group’s board of directors has established the following plan for reopening the woods roads, checkpoints and campsites:

“From May 1 to May 17, with permission from the governor’s office, North Maine Woods and the KI Jo-Mary Forest will open for day use, and with the approval of the private landowners, private roads will be open to public use to allow day use access for fishing, hiking and riding,” Cowperthwaite said. “We still ask that visitors refrain from driving on soft side roads. During this time, checkpoints will not be staffed so registration and visitor fees will not be required.”

On May 18, the group will start opening checkpoints, with some changes from past protocols.

“In an effort to protect our employees from exposure, during weekdays visitors will be asked to self-register using the forms available and with assistance from our staff using telephones installed at each location,” Cowperthwaite said. ” During weekends and at other random times, checkpoints will be staffed.”

And then, beginning June 1, campsites will be reopened to Maine residents and non-residents who have completed the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, he said.

Those considering camping in the remote Maine woods before June should reconsider, Cowperthwaite said.

“Until June arrives, Maine’s game wardens, forest rangers and landowner representatives have been asked to report illegal camping activity,” he said. “Should anyone be found camping illegally, they risk being banned from using North Maine Woods managed properties in the future.”

According to the North Maine Woods’ inventory of campsites, the organization maintains a total of 330 sites at 144 locations. Many of those locations have just a single campsite available, while some others may have as many as eight sites at one spot. Reservations are not accepted and those seeking to camp operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...