Dr. Paul Liebow
A sneaky move is afoot in Augusta to undo the famed “River Drivers Agreement” – an artful compromise worked out and signed by multiple stakeholders to balance both remoteness and access to the Wild and Scenic River known around the world as the Allagash. Citizens should contact their legislators now.
LD 2077 is both a terrible idea and terrible public policy. It would undo years of progress and collaborative agreements to improve stewardship of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Its name alone tells us it was never intended to be “The Allagash Convenient to Recreational Vehicles Waterway.” Undoing the River Drivers Agreement would undermine all future public interest work where groups of citizens with different viewpoints try to work together on compromises that are in the best interests of all. Why do all the hard work if it can be undone instantaneously by 11th-hour political meddling?
It is amazing that those who are opposing the wilderness waterway do not see the handwriting on the wall from the far more threatening Plum Creek disaster, which would set the precedent that every square inch of the Great North Woods is open to development as greedy “timber companies” from far away slice and dice it into a garbage heap. Folks should be coming down in droves to weigh in for the way of life so many of us love so much.
It is high time that we all understand that wilderness is a very appropriate “traditional use” of Maine lands – an essential part of balanced use of our finite resources. Before the phenomenal development of cheap motorized vehicles and the population explosion in recent years, a wilderness experience was part of every other traditional use of Maine lands, whether it be hunting, fishing, hiking, or even a family picnic. We need to respect and restore that balance on all our public lands.
The concept of wilderness is probably very different for different people. Each of us has our own deeply personal conception of wilderness, some form of mysterious interior “Heart of Darkness,” as Joseph Conrad conceptualized it. But everyone’s concept of wilderness in its purest sense embodies notions of peace and quiet, solitude, communing with nature, “roughing it” without our normal amenities, a stirring of primitive emotions, an element of isolation and even danger, and a certain remoteness and difficulty in getting to it. That’s what fosters the excitement and almost religious awe one feels in the wilderness.
Emotions evoked in the wilderness are internalized in us so deeply that memories of it are often epiphanies that last a lifetime – remembered dreams that re-surface even when we are simply in the outdoors on a nice afternoon, or smell Ole Woodsmans Fly Dope.
I vividly remember my own trip down the Allagash at 15 as dangerous and isolated, even though “Coach” Cochrane could probably have hiked out to a fire tower or logging operation within a few hours from the most remote point we ever attained. We spent weeks paddling and fishing in all kinds of weather. We poled upriver for a whole day looking for Allagash Lake but never did find it. We jumped in Allagash Falls and swam across the maelstrom and back, over and over again just for the fun of it.
We paddled by canoes bent around the rocks by those that came just before us – their gear still in the water. We found a mysterious swath of splintered trees where a tornado had touched down. We spent almost a week in rain-soaked tents on Chesuncook Lake where we had come to fish for togue and “relax.” A spring even opened up under my tent, but I cherish the drenched memories.
You don’t have to live your life in the wilderness, or even spend large amounts of free time there, to benefit daily from the spiritual values inherent in it. Just knowing the Allagash is still there makes me happy. It is just plain wrong to undo the present Allagash Wilderness Waterway plan so that a select few who happen to live close by can use it as their own personal RV park.
The wilderness experience is not just another beautiful day on the water fishing and picnicking with the family in a power boat, then pulling out to get home in time for the evening news. We have thousands of miles of streams and hundreds of square miles of lakes and ponds in Maine for motorized recreation, but precious few of wilderness. We can not afford to give up the few we still have. Like extinction, development is forever.
Dr. Paul A. Liebow lives in Bucksport.