Up North, where there are more white pines than oaks, the woods have a way of shaping people. Bristling with spruce, pine, and birch, this part of the corridor is very much a working forest, with close to ninety percent of the landscape covered by trees. From Jackman to Bingham, logging and the forest products industry have had a profound effect on the region’s culture and communities. A popular destination for snowmobiling, hunting, and fishing, the region also offers beautiful vistas, plenty of wildlife and endless opportunities to escape from civilization. The Kennebec River, joined at The Forks by the Dead River, provides some of the best whitewater rafting in the Northeast. The legendary Appalachian Trail crosses the Kennebec-Chaudière Corridor at Caratunk. Another popular spot is Moxie Falls, one of New England’s highest waterfalls with a drop of more than ninety feet.
There is in northern Maine a township or, as they say here, a plantation, called The Enchanted. It lies in the heart of the forest country and is seldom entered except by lumbermen bound for some winter logging camp from which they return with curious stories.
Close by lies the Upper and Lower Enchanted region, where the wilderness spreads northward to the Canadian border. Local legend tells how the place lures wanderers into the woods and transforms them.
This is the North Woods, the outback, a place of wildness and of refuge, known to snowmobilers, bootleggers, artists, rafters, and woodsmen. What draws people to this region, whether to live or visit, is its remoteness. Outposts in what is called Maine’s frontier, Jackman and The Forks attract people looking for the solace of the wilderness or the challenge of living on the edge. Here, there is a long tradition of individualism, a deep sense of personal liberty coupled with close ties to community. Living year round in such a northern place, residents value and indeed depend on their connections with others.
Making a living in such a remote place is challenging. Many people work in the woods year round. Some guide visitors down the river or on hunting trips; others provide services to snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, and whitewater rafters. Sometimes people patch together a round of seasonal jobs like harvesting wild foods, cutting firewood, working in restaurants and ‘tipping’ greens for Christmas wreaths. Seasonal employment has a long history in many communities in this upper portion of the corridor. Early farmers here worked in lumbering, fishing and ice cutting and helped shape a unique way of life that endures to this day.
What does the possession of such a frontier mean to the way of life? …It means that the State of Maine still has room to breathe physically and metaphorically.
For early European settlers, the Kennebec River afforded access to Maine’s interior woods and waterways. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution, such natural abundance was viewed as a resource to be exploited. By the early nineteenth century, lumber and textile mills sprang up along the river, taking advantage of plentiful woods and waterpower. Lumberjacks laboring with bucksaws, axes and draft horses, worked all winter to cut trees and readied them for spring log drives, when thousands of logs were floated to mills downriver. River drives continued until 1976. The history of the corridor’s Native peoples is an integral part of the story. Across the Kennebec River, in the Solon/Embden area, Indian petroglyphs are still present, although logging drives destroyed many of these ancient markings.
There under the Bark of the Spruce there is furled
A web that will carry the news of a world,
That clamors and crowds at the swaying red backs
Of the toilers of Maine, the rough men of the axe.
By the twentieth century, paper manufacturing took hold in Maine and along the Kennebec-Chaudière Corridor; Bingham became the social and industrial center of an area devoted to logging. Even today, logs are trucked through Bingham on their way to pulp mills in Skowhegan and several nationally known paper companies have offices in town. Paper company land in Maine has traditionally been open for public use. Hundreds of miles of unpaved roadways provide access to the working forest. But every day, logging trucks, roaring down the roads to the paper mills, remind visitors who owns the land.
We didn’t use a lot of our railroads in Maine for logging, as they did out west. We used the rivers and streams as our primary mode of transportation.
Beginning in Jackman and moving south from the Canadian border, the corridor follows Route 201 to The Forks and continues down the east side of the Kennebec River to the town of Solon (this segment of the route has been designated as the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway). A more detailed map can be found at locations along the route.