A high angle shot of the forest captured at sunset
Courtesy of North Maine Woods Inc.

First, we want to thank everyone who came to the North Maine Woods (NMW) and the KI Jo-Mary Forest (KIJM) during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic for cooperating with our request to self-distance and wear masks when registering. We are extremely fortunate that after registering over 100,000 visitors last year, none of our 60 seasonal employees came down with the virus!

With an interest in getting outside and self-distancing, use of the NMW region increased by 17% over the previous year. Through the registration process, it is possible to track many different reasons why people come to the area. Interest in camping increased by 22%, with over 22,000 visitor days of camping activity. Many were first time visitors who expressed relief at being able to find an activity they could enjoy that didn’t include close association with other people. 

Landowners Shared a Vision 50 Years Ago 

After 50 years in operation, most people know that NMW Inc. was created in 1971 by the private family and industrial landowners owning land in the NMW region. NMW Inc. was formed as a not-for-profit organization to manage public access and recreation, so the forest landowners could concentrate on managing their forest products. Under its non-profit statue, none of the recreational land use fees charged can be shared with the landowner members. Despite the recent increase in visitors, the management program now in place allows landowners to move harvesting crews and equipment and truck harvested wood from the region in a reasonably safe manner. The result is a truly unique opportunity for public access for traditional uses to a large area of predominantly privately owned land.

With so many different landowners in the program, (see the accompanying list on page 25) and each with their own forest management style, the result is a very diverse northern Maine forest. Some owners conduct intensive harvest and regeneration programs. Some have created significant ecological reserve areas where no harvesting or road building is allowed. And then there are many owners that manage their forests somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Combined, the region contains many different types of forest habitat which supports an array of wildlife species.

Nearly 30 percent of the total area of 3.5 million acres is protected by Conservation Easements which protect various aspects of the forest. Over a dozen different easements are in place with most preventing or restricting development.

The organization is also fortunate to have a Board of Directors and Administrative Committee members who are leaders in the area of business and natural resource management. Over the past 50 years, through their leadership, NMW now has well maintained checkpoint and campsite facilities, a staff of full-time professional managers and strong financial footing. In conjunction with the anniversary, NMW members are in the process of updating a comprehensive Five-Year Operational Plan to guide the program.

State Agency Cooperation 

Members of the NMW Administrative Committee at a pre-Covid meeting. (Left to right) Jason Desjardin, Orion Timberlands; Chris Stone, The Nature Conservancy; Mike Jurgiewich, Wagner Forest Management; Hannah Stevens, Seven Islands Land Co.; Kevin McVey, Katahdin Forest Management; Kenny Ferguson, Huber Resources; Bart Plourde, Prentiss & Carlisle; Chris Huston, Irving Woodlands; Jim O’Malley, Landvest; Mike McLellan, NMW.

Input and cooperation from Maine’s Natural Resource Agencies has been a priority for landowners since the organization was first established. Commissioners of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Department of Conservation, Agriculture and Forestry have been included as members of the Board of Directors since the beginning, in an effort to ensure NMW policies are consistent with State policy.

On a daily basis, NMW staff work in cooperation with Maine’s Game Wardens, Fisheries and Wildlife Biologists, Maine Forest Service Rangers and staff from Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands to keep visitors safe and protect the forest’s resources.

Staffed Checkpoints

Members of the NMW Administrative Committee at a pre-Covid meeting. (Left to right) Jason Desjardin, Orion Timberlands; Chris Stone, The Nature Conservancy; Mike Jurgiewich, Wagner Forest Management; Hannah Stevens, Seven Islands Land Co.; Kevin McVey, Katahdin Forest Management; Kenny Ferguson, Huber Resources; Bart Plourde, Prentiss & Carlisle; Chris Huston, Irving Woodlands; Jim O’Malley, Landvest; Mike McLellan, NMW.

Nine staffed checkpoints are located on the primary access roads surrounding the boundary of the NMW area. Checkpoint Receptionists register the name, address, destination and purpose for entering the region. Land Use Permits provide written permission to use the land. Information from all permits is computerized to generate detailed visitor use information, which is valuable to NMW and state agencies for planning purposes. Checkpoint staff also collects day use and camping fees which offset most costs for operations.

Automated Checkpoints 

Beginning in 2005, access management changed with the introduction of an unstaffed automated checkpoint at Dickey which eliminated the need to have employees on site to manage traffic at that location. Through the use of satellite internet, video cameras and an electric remotely controlled gate arm, powered by solar energy with propane generator back-up, a new way of controlling access was pioneered. Since 2005, six more automated checkpoints have been installed, reducing annual operating costs which have helped to keep visitor fees reasonable.

The process of registering visitors as they enter the region has kept theft, vandalism and forest fire dangers to a minimum, which is not the case for many forested tracts in our world. A check of forest access policies in other states and countries will show that very little private or public forest land is open and accessible to the general public for a very reasonable fee.

Campsites and Campsite Improvements 

Picnic table shelters like this are constantly being worked on and improved in an effort to keep campsites facilities in good condition for visitors.

NMW maintains over 350 authorized campsites spread throughout the woods from the north end of Moosehead Lake to Ashland, Fort Kent and west to the Quebec border. All campsites have fireplaces, picnic tables, outhouses and over 60 have picnic table shelters. Nine teams of employees working in six different geographical regions oversee campsite maintenance during the spring and summer. Once the grass stops growing in late summer, these crews switch gears and concentrate on campsite improvement and development projects. Over the last decade, many older outhouses and picnic table shelters have been replaced in an ongoing improvement effort to keep campsites facilities in good condition and comfortable for guests. 

There are also a number of designated, fire permit campsites in the western reaches which are primarily used by hunters during the fall months. That region is mostly devoid of lakes and ponds which attract fishermen and people just wanting to camp in the other seasons.

Visitor Activities

Hunting related activity accounts for over 50 percent of the annual use of NMW.

Over the past 50 years, the NMW area has become a mecca for hunters with hunting related activity accounting for over 50 percent of annual use now. Pursuit of ruffed grouse, black bears and moose are bringing more hunters every year. A majority of the moose hunting permits issued by Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department are for Wildlife Management Districts located within NMW.

The area also is a favorite destination for fishermen looking to hook onto native fish from many of the remote lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. Many times, anglers can find themselves alone on many waters, in contrast to what takes place at popular fishing spots in other states. The region contains a substantial number of Heritage native brook trout waters. In addition to native brook trout, waters in the area are known to produce large lake trout, white fish and some very large muskellunge can be found in the St. John River watershed. 

Guides, vehicle transporters and sporting camps

For folks desiring more amenities than remote campsites provide, there are over two dozen sporting camps spread across the region. Amenities vary but usually include comfortable cabins, running water with flush toilets and showers and close proximity to good fishing or hunting opportunities. There are also a few businesses that specialize in transporting people and renting camping and canoeing equipment for people interested in Allagash or St. John River canoe trips. For others not wanting to plan their own hunts or trips, there are numerous guiding businesses in surrounding communities available to do that work. We require anyone that does business on the private properties to have a Commercial Use Permit with us, and we issued 118 permits last year. A listing of many of these various businesses can be found on the NMW website.

KI Jo-Mary Multiple Use Forest 

A stunning view of Billing Falls. Photo by Mark Grant.

KI Jo-Mary Multiple Use Forest (KIJM) is also managed by North Maine Woods Inc. KIJM was formed in 1986 which makes 2021 the 35th Anniversary for this area. Landowners in this region approached NMW members to provide similar management for this tract, which is located between Millinocket, Brownville and Greenville. Management included the installation of four checkpoints on access roads entering the region as well as maintaining seventy campsites. Major destinations in this region include Gulf Hagas, White Cap mountain, Gauntlet Falls and Jo-Mary Lake. The Appalachian Trail bisects the land base. Primary activities for this region include hiking, fishing and camping. 

Today approximately 10 different landowners are represented on the KIJM Inc. Board of Directors. Those landowners are: AMC Maine Woods Initiative LLC, Cassidy Timberlands LLC, The Conservation Fund, North Woods Maine LLC, Pine State Timberlands LLC, Greentrees, Inc., Katahdin Forest Management LLC, McCrillis Timberland LLC, Prentiss & Carlisle Company Inc. and the Silver Ridge Land Company. The State of Maine and the National Park Service also own property within the region.

A Busy 2021 

Administrative Staff: (left to right) Kelli Sturgeon, Checkpoint Manager; Al Cowperthwaite, Executive Director; Laura Sturgeon, Commercial Use Manager; Mike McLellan, Assistant Director; Sammi LaBelle, Office Manager.

We are looking forward to another busy year ahead so staff has been making preparations to accommodate visitors. Checkpoint receptionists are excited to see new and returning visitors come to the NMW. Campsite Crews will be making their rounds to make sure facilities are clean and attractive. If you are looking for more information, please check out our website at www.northmainewoods.org. If you have a question, call us at 207-435-6213 or email us at info@northmainewoods.org.

North Maine Woods

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