43-Black and White – Umbagog Lake SP

Would there still be open water on Umbagog Lake?  I had saved this last park for a winter visit, thinking it would be a fun place to cross-country ski.  But there hadn’t been much snow so far and last week the weather had turned warm.  The idea of skiing on a lake that still had open water was not appealing, so I had a backup plan to ski at Milan Hill if need be.  Most of what we had on the ground at home had melted and even though the weather had turned colder, the Androscoggin River was mostly ice-free on the drive up.  Things were not looking rosy.

Fortunately Umbagog’s ice cover was solid and, as an added bonus, the previous night had provided about two inches of beautiful, powdery snow; snow so light and dry that it didn’t even stick to the trees but all settled directly on the frozen ground.   The best thing was that there had been no wind, so the snow covered the frozen lake’s surface smoothly and evenly, without drifts or icy patches.  In fact, except for the the day being gray and overcast, conditions were perfect.  The grayness would just make today’s photos look like they were taken in black and white.

In spite of appearances, this is a color photo.

In spite of appearances, this is a color photo.

I have always admired Umbagog from a distance.  Seen from the hillsides of Upton, Maine, this 7-mile long lake, surrounded by low hills and gentle mountains, has always looked beautiful, whatever the season.  But this would be my first time actually on the lake, a lake that has only been preserved from further development in the last decade or so.  Almost the entire lakeshore and surrounding woodlands were acquired by the government, with most being allocated to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and the balance becoming a state park.

Even at this time of year, the refuge’s wildlife didn’t disappoint.  Although my skiing generally kept me on the lake, I still had the pleasure of seeing two bald eagles and the playful tracks in the snow of a family of three otters.  Their tracks made clear that they would run a few steps on the snow, then lie on their stomachs and glide for a few more feet.  I saw one spot where, after climbing a small buckle in the ice, all three of them slid back down together on their bellies.  I only wish I could have seen the otters themselves, instead of just their tracks!

But one thing was bothering me.  If this is a wildlife refuge, why are there still private homes scattered along the shore?  There aren’t many, but it’s hard to call this wilderness with 9 or 10 homes scattered randomly along the shore, some small, and others quite substantial.  What about the wildlife?  It seems that the lumber companies had granted a select few long-term leases when they owned the land and these were grandfathered and extended when the land was bought and preserved.  I couldn’t decide whether my indignation was on behalf of the wildlife or just jealousy that someone else gets to enjoy this area in such a permanent way.  After some consideration, I settled on jealousy being the main motivation.  But sometimes things aren’t so black and white.

Greek god?  Religious icon? or just a burl on a hemlock?

Greek god? Religious icon? or just a burl on a hemlock?

The refuge may have been set aside for wildlife, but the state park allows people to enjoy the lake, too.  Nearly 40 remote campsites have been situated along the shores of the lake as well as on some of the larger islands.   There’s also a campground with cabins and showers and a camp store on the southern shore but the remote campsites look to me to be the real draw here.

This lakeside campsite looked particularly appealing.

This lakeside campsite looked particularly appealing.

They are generally spaced anywhere from a quarter to half mile apart and there seemed to be few or no trails leading inland from any of them.  So each one becomes a world unto itself, with the lake providing the only access and contact with the rest of the world.  You’re there to fish, swim, or paddle…or relax.

I parked at the entrance to the park which, unlike my experience last spring, I fully expected to be “closed for season”.

I had to include this photo just to have some color on this page.

I had to include this photo just to have some color on this page.

From there I skied a 6-mile loop heading north around Big Island, then east to the tip of Tidswell Point and then back south to the car.  There were just a few snowmobiles on the lake – it seems the riders were much more interested in the trails through the surrounding woods and mountains.  For a Saturday, I was surprised that no one else had this idea, but I was perfectly OK with having the lake to myself.

I like how this tree seems suspended in mid-air

I like how this tree seems suspended in mid-air

Having only traveled about a quarter of the length of the lake, I’ve left much to explore for future visits.  Happy travels!DSC06310

PS I can’t help putting in a plug for nearby Grafton Notch, a state park just a few miles away over the border in Maine.  When you’re done at the lake, make sure to head to the notch, both for some spectacular mountain views, but also to see one of my favorite waterfalls in New England: Screw Auger Falls.  The runoff from the melting glaciers at the end of the ice age carved a gorge through the solid granite that even today looks like a giant scoop had carved through soft ice cream.

The top of Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch, Maine.

The top of Screw Auger Falls in Grafton Notch, Maine.

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