By Erinne Magee

Many Mainers know “camp” as a summer sanctuary of sorts. A place where you can kick up your feet and go for a dip, should the sun be just right and the black flies few.

Going “Upta camp” is a tradition largely attributed to the deep roots of sporting camps in Maine.

Dating back to the 1800s, sporting camps catered to outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like hunting, fishing and canoeing. Traditional Maine sporting camps weren’t just a place to go and do, but also a place to get a hearty home cooked meal and rest your head to the tune of nature’s soundtrack.

According to the Maine Sporting Camp Association, in the early 1900s there were 300 sporting camps around Maine, with a few of the originals still operational today. In total, over 40 sporting camps open their doors each year in hopes of preserving the unique culture while continuing to stimulate the state’s economy. 

Many of these sporting camps today have a range of accommodations, offering modern lodges complete with hot water and WiFi as well as more traditional off-the-grid experiences for those who are brave enough to withstand midnight trips to the outhouse.

Katy Wood and Bud Utecht, a registered Maine guide, became the new owners of Buckhorn camps on Middle Jo-Mary Lake in 2020, a lodge with roots dating back to the late 1800s when it was operated as a private sporting camp.

“Purchasing Buckhorn Camps was like restoring a piece of my soul,” said Wood, who spent many years working at Rainbow Lake Camps with her sister. “It’s a dream come true to play in the woods all day. I pinch myself when looking out the window over the moose meadow.”

Wood’s father, Andy Pease, was CFO of Webber Energy Fuels in Bangor. One of his roles at Webber was real estate acquisition. Back in the 70’s he saved Rainbow Lake Camps in T2 R11 from being torn down. Webber bought the camps and operated them until 2019 as a private sporting camp, entertaining clients and business partners. 

It’s clear the heritage of sporting camps is also made special because of the generations of hands and hearts that play a role in keeping the spirit alive. Wood’s story of growing up in the sporting camp community is not unique. In fact, the preservation of such camps relies not just on following in the footsteps of elders but passing on the joy and stories from yesterday. 

“The sense of community is very important to us,” said Wood. “Our guests look at both of us and say, ‘You two are right where you need to be.’”

While keeping the sporting camp spark alive is integral to the survival of this tradition, the Maine Sporting Camp Heritage Foundation (MSCHF) points out several challenges camps face along the way, including changes in land ownership, complicated land management policies, high taxes and limited access to land and water, forcing regulations to owners and visitors alike. While advocacy is important to MSCHF, the nonprofit also exists to provide affordable financing to sporting camps for projects like upgrading facilities, acquiring land and even assisting in the purchase of property.  

This year, COVID-19 also brings an extra layer of precautions to sporting camps. Maine sporting camps follow state guidelines and CDC recommendations for safety. But the advantage to operating a lodge in Maine is the seemingly endless acreage of these sporting camps, creating a naturally distanced experience. 

“A true adventure to the North Maine Woods is like no other,” said Wood. “With our 3 million acre back yard, we are ready to help guests go back in time when they visit Buckhorn Camps.”

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