FORT KENT – Leonard Pelletier, a monster of a man in both size and mystique, raised a family and earned a living on and along the Allagash River in northwestern Maine long before the river became a protected haven under the 1966 creation of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.
A legendary Maine game warden and river man who loved the Allagash, Pelletier talked about the river every chance he had. Along with Jalbert’s Camps (pronounced Jal-bear), he became synonymous with the Allagash River among residents of the northern end of the state.
It was not a surprise Thursday night to see a picture of Pelletier running the rapids of Long Lake Dam standing in the stern of his 21-foot wooden canoe using only a pole for control through the treacherous waters. The picture graces the cover of “Northrunner,” a DVD documentary of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway created for the 40th anniversary of the state park.
The premiere of “Northrunner” was viewed at the University of Maine at Fort Kent by more than 150 people. The 52-minute documentary was produced by Ursus Productions of Waterville in conjunction with the Maine Department of Conservation.
It was a labor of love, Department of Conservation Commissioner Patrick K. McGowan said at the opening. “It’s a spectacular, phenomenal waterway,” he said. “It belongs to all of us.”
“It gives a true meaning of what the river is to us,” state Sen. John L. Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said before the screening. “You will see many interesting faces and places.”
The film shows great scenes of the 92-mile waterway that runs from Telos Landing on Chamberlain Lake to West Twin Brooks, about five miles south of Allagash Village.
The documentary is filled with the beautiful scenery of the waterway and familiar voices of users of the river. Viewers were shown the tramway at Eagle Lake, the quiet waters of the large lakes at the beginning of the waterway, the white water of the Chase Rapids and the meandering flow after Umsaskis Lake to Round Pond and on to the 30-foot-high Allagash Falls and West Twin Brooks.
The film also shows old footage of decades of lumber operations, when trees where twice the size around as the logger cutting them. Thousands of men earned a living along the river in its heyday of lumbering by man and animal.
Also covered are the sporting camps of the river, the Jalbert Camps at Round Pond and the more southern Nugent and McNally sporting camps.
It also raises the topic of settlements along the river, such as Michaud Farm and the Moir Farm in the northern reaches of the waterway. Only remnants of the many buildings remain at those sites now.
Melford Pelletier and his brother Gary Pelletier, both sons of Leonard Pelletier, talk about what the river has meant to them. The sentiment is the same for author and Maine Guide Gil Gilpatrick and other users of the river.
The film mentions the original motives to protect the river system and the arrival of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and Sen. Edmund S. Muskie. Muskie believed protection should come from the state rather than the federal government.
“It has always been a working river,” the narrator said. “It has been a way of life for many.”
Still, the river has kept its pristine nature, despite it being in the middle of a working forest.
The river has spurred controversy for many years among environmentalists and local users of the river.
“We all can live together,” Martin, who has become a champion for resident users of the river in northern Maine, said at the end of the film. “This is a step in the right direction.”>/p>
He said he is anxious to see the reaction to the documentary elsewhere.
The film, produced by McGowan and Andy Collar of Ursus Productions and directed by Kyle Hockmeyer, will be shown at the University of Maine at Augusta on March 7 and Frontier Cafe in Brunswick on March 15. It also will be shown on Maine Public Broadcasting, Channel 13 in Portland and Channel 7 in Bangor.