In late September, 1990, the United States Congress enacted legislation designating more than 11,000 acres of Maine’s White Mountain National Forest as a permanent Wilderness Area. The Maine Wilderness Act of 1990, which created the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area, was the result of more than seven years of hard work on the part of NRCM and other local, state, and national conservation groups. NRCM Resource Specialist Jerry Bley spoke at the time about the significance of the victory:
“This Act represents one of the last opportunities to preserve a piece of Maine’s vanishing wilderness. Caribou-Speckled’s undisturbed beauty, the spectacular views from the summits of the area’s many peaks, the dozens of waterfalls, gorges, and cascading brooks, the extensive mature forest stands and the area’s diverse plant and animal life will make it an important addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System.”
The effort to create the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness Area started in the fall of 1983 when legislation was first introduced in Congress to set aside and protect more than 16,000 acres of land in Maine’s section of the White Mountain National Forest. The initial proposal, which enjoyed broad public support, very quickly became the subject of much dispute and debate among the state’s forest products industry, conservation groups, and recreation interests. Proponents, led by NRCM, argued that the wilderness designation was vital to ensuring the area’s outstanding natural resource values were preserved for future generations. Opponents of the measure, mainly representatives of the forest products industry, expressed concern that the proposal was being driven by out-of-state interests and was intended as a first step toward banning timber harvesting on public lands. Over the course of several years, NRCM, emphasizing its role as a Maine-based conservation organization and citing many decades of effectively developing management plans for public lands that supported sound timber management, established a compromise proposal: setting aside approximately 12,000 acres as permanent, protected wilderness, and another 4,000 acres as working forest.
Today, the Caribou-Speckled Wilderness Area has become a popular recreation destination, with miles of hiking trails leading to spectacular views and blueberry fields, well maintained campsites, and seasonal staff to provide information on back-country conditions and local history. The Wilderness Area provides critical habitat for deer, moose, bear, coyotes, and other wildlife.
In the autumn months the slopes of Speckled Mountain shimmer with the fiery foliage of its untouched hardwood stands. In the spring, the sound of icy streams and freshets resound against the rocks as they flow to join the headwaters of the Saco and Androscoggin rivers. For almost a quarter century the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness has stood as proof of the value and wisdom of conserving public lands—acting as a sanctuary from the commotion and complexity of modern life, and providing refuge for visitors seeking an opportunity to experience the life-affirming values of wilderness.
Banner photo by Ryan Linn