Celebrating 50 Years of Maine’s Allagash Waterway: A Family Tradition

canoeing river rapids
Gramps taking his grandsons, Matt and Eric, down the rapids

by Alison Taylor

The Allagash Waterway is a beautiful wilderness area in Maine composed of stunning lakes and a winding river that flows northeast to the St. John River.

The Waterway played an important role in Maine's logging industry in the 1800s. Dam construction formed ponds and lakes in order to send the lumber south into Bangor. The logging crews also used the natural flow of the river to send the downed trees north into Canada.

After many years of harvesting hard and soft wood, federal and state legislation stepped in to protect the Allagash in 1966. It joined the National Wild and Scenic River System four years later.
The Allagash is composed of 92 miles of interconnecting bodies of water to create a canoe trail for the recreational uses of wilderness camping, fishing, hunting and travel.

Soon after the Allagash became protected in 1966, my Gramps, Gordon Calverley, decided he wanted to explore the northern waterways of Maine.

by a waterfall
Alison’s Gramps and Nana in 1969

He was an expert whitewater canoeist and loved to camp. So when he read about the Allagash in a magazine article he knew he had to go there. He knew he couldn't do the trip alone, so he approached his friend, Bob Fenby, the pastor of Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, MA.

Rev. Fenby had been involved for years with the church youth groups and conference camp trips, and he loved canoeing. Gramps asked him if it would be possible to take teens on a wilderness canoe trip.

After pitching the idea to the conference camp organization and getting their blessing, Gramps and Rev. Fenby put the means and equipment together for their first trip to the Allagash in 1970.

The trip leaders were, Gordon and Sue Calverley (Nana), Rev. Fenby, and three other adults. There were 18 adventurous teenagers from across Massachusetts, including my parents, Bruce Arnold (17) and Deb Calverley (14), long before they got married.

The first year was a hit. They traveled all 92 miles that August. My parents and grandparents were hooked. Like salmon they would travel up north one, two, three or even four times within a season.
Gordon and Sue would lead the youth trips a couple times in a summer and would also escape the hustle and bustle of society by going up as a two-person team.

After they were married, my parents also became youth group leaders. More importantly, they paddled the Allagash together as well as with their growing family.

mom and little boy in canoe
Alison’s mom, Deb, with her brother Eric back in 1986

They made sure to instill the love of the outdoors to their two sons and twin daughters, Eric, Douglas, Alison (that’s me!) and Sarah, who all consider the Allagash their second home.

Throughout the years, our family has become stewards of the land and waterways. We always left our campsites cleaner for the next campers. We always left some extra firewood in the brace of the picnic tables for those cold wet days.

We helped those with swamped boats, sick or injured campers, swept the pine needles out of the outhouses, filled the pump's water jug with clean water for others to prime the pumps with.

We moved swiftly through the lakes and river, leaving as few footprints as we could. And we always took lots of photos to hold onto the beauty of the Allagash year ‘round.

This year, 2020, we’ll celebrate our family's 50th Anniversary of wilderness canoe camping on the Allagash.

We hope to have four generations of the Calverley/Arnold family—from 1-78 years old—paddling together this August to continue the tradition.

camping allagash region
Alison (the author) and sister, Sarah

Although my Gramps isn't with us anymore to make this special trip, I'm certain his spirit of adventure and love of his Allagash will be there with us all.

Nana and our parents, Bruce and Deb, were lucky enough to be on that first trip in 1970 and almost every year since then.

But this year is special as they watch their grandkids and great-grandkids play in the dirt, camp out under the stars, and paddle the same river they once did 50 years ago, reliving the trip for the first time through their eyes.

nana at the campsite
Alison’s Nana still loves the Allagash wilderness

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