Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Grand Lake Matagamon

  This past weekend my father and I took the snowmobile and headed in to camp to just spend the day.  The camp is at Haybrook Meadow just north east of Grand Lake Matagamon.  As we were sledding across the frozen lake, I got to thinking about how there are so many people that will never have the experiences that I have been fortunate to have growing up in Maine.  I take those for granted at times, as much as I hate to admit it, and it's moments like that - speeding across the ice and looking over at the rock face of Horse Mountain - that it really hits me how lucky I have been.  Here is a bit about our camp from what I remember of stories from family.

Our hunting camp has been in the family since only 1983 (according to my grandfather that's the year he built the camp), but that area is rich with family history going back to at least the 1920's.  My great grandfather, Herschel A. Steen, used to trap up in that area.  He was a registered Maine Guide, and I've heard many stories about him guiding hunting trips for people from all over New England.  Ironically enough, he had a brother, Amos, that was a game warden in the same area.  I'm not sure if that helped or hurt his business, though. :) 

My great grandfather (Pappy as I called him) used to take his canoe all by himself across Grand Lake Matagamon to where he had his original camp at Hay Brook Logan.  This is probably well over 7 miles to paddle a gear laden canoe all by yourself.  My great grandfather was definitely much more hardy than I am!  He used to travel to camp in this fashion right up until the day he took my great-grandmother in to camp with him....after which she bought him a motor for his canoe insisting that it was too far for him to be paddling a canoe in there.  This is a photo of them at the original camp:

My great grandfather had this camp right up until some time in the 60s/70s (I am unsure of the year) when Baxter State Park officials decided that they did not want a hunting camp on park lands - and then burned it to the ground.  I have not been up to the old camp site at Hay Brook Logan, but my father says that the old wood stove is still there today just sitting in the woods.  That's all that is left of the camp that Pappy, Grampa, and Uncle Bob spent so much time at.

A funny side note to this story - without a camp to stay in, Pappy had to improvise when hunting/trapping in the area.  So he built a make-shift shelter out of plastic wrap and tar paper.  Grampa says that they just wrapped this around some trees, fashioned a roof, and stayed in there when they were in the woods.  Complete with a wood stove, shelves for food stores, and everything:

Plastic shack

Uncle Bob in front of Pappy's shack.

Around about 1983, my grandfather acquired a lease from the logging companies to build a camp further up Hay Brook at Hay Brook Meadow.  This camp is only maybe 30 feet from the park line, but since it is on the logging company's land - it has not suffered the same fate that Pappy's camp did.  Grampa built the camp with some family and friends over the course of several weekends.  It is just as rustic of a camp as the first one.

Grampa's camp.

This is what the camp looked like shortly after it was built.  It is on leased land, and from the looks of it Grampa used the logs from the trees he cleared to put the camp here to actually build the camp.  Even though it is in a different location than the camp that Pappy originally had, it is still located in the area that Pappy and his brothers would hunt and trap.  Proof of this can be seen in a birch tree on the trail to camp:

MBS are the initials in this tree - Maurice B Steen - with the year beneath them - 1931.  This tree has been there for 82 years, and you can still clearly read the carving Pappy's brother left there. Talk about a living piece of family history!

Our camp is about as rustic and off the grid as it gets, and over the years it has gotten a lot of use.  My parents used to go in there with my grandfather when I was very young - which ended at least one time with me getting carried out in a pack basket (apparently I was too tired to walk back out).  Uncle Bob (my grandfather's brother) used to take us in there as kids for a few days over Thanksgiving break while he was hunting.  We would play in the woods, feed corn bread to the Canadian Jays, and play cribbage til late into the evening.  They are memories that I thought as a child, everyone had the opportunity to make.  Now that I'm older, I appreciate them so much more because I realize that not everyone has that or will have that.

The years have gone by, and camp gets less use now than it used to.  As a result, there was a lot of work that needed to be done to bring it back to being livable for more than just an afternoon.  The mice had torn the mattresses apart and built their nests everywhere they could.  Several winters of heavy snow had taken it's toll on the structure of camp.  The stove pipe needed replacing.  Even the outhouse wasn't safe - an animal had torn right through the side of it!  It was time, we all decided, for someone to do a little maintenance to camp, and so my dad waited for the winter when he could take materials across on his sled and then set to work.  My father can be likened to Tim the Tool-man Taylor if Tim had actually known what he was doing.  He never does anything half-way and is a perfectionist in every sense of the word (which is why he is so good at what he does).  I remember thinking "I hope he leaves camp like a camp" - rather than completely re-doing the structure and turning it into the Taj-mahal of hunting camps.

Kudos to my dad - he brought camp back to it's former "glory" without stripping everything that made it camp:

Dad in front of an updated camp

Updated camp from the side
 Camp has stayed the camp that we all have fond memories of, but it is now updated with new mouse-proof cabinets, propane piping for the cook stove and lights, new stove pipe, and bed boxes that keep the mice from tearing the mattresses apart for their nests.  He's also fixed some structural issues and has plans to add a metal roof so that there are no worries about snow building up and causing the roof to collapse.

We spent that day at camp taking pictures of everything that was done so that family members could see the changes that were made.  It's the fist time in a long time that I've had a chance to be at camp, start a wood fire, spend the day... I don't think I realized how much I'd missed it til just then.  I came back with photos to send to the family, and honestly I even felt a little lighter - spending time in the woods can really have a healing effect on a person, I think.  Uncle Bob lives in Florida now, but he asks about the camp every time we talk.  Aunt Heather lives in VT, and she's often said "If you can't find me, that's where I'll be - in the woods at camp a few hundred miles from everything."  Now I guess she really could do that if she wanted to.

To many people camp means a place they go to go boating and throw parties and have bonfires, but I don't think many people know what it is to have a camp that is off the grid like this one.  A place that feels almost untouched by time and so saturated with memories that whether you've been there once or a hundred times, whether you were there 20 years ago or just last week, it feels like home.

Here are some photos Grampa shared with me from trips to camp back years ago:

Great-Gram Steen on the boat ride to camp.

Some hunters that Pappy was acting as guide for.

View of Pappy's camp from the water.

Pappy (standing) and Grampa (right) at Pappy's camp.

Uncle Bob posing with his deer.

Pappy fishing at Matagamon.

Grampa feeding the Canadian Jays.

Grampa said he was told "Do the dishes or else!" haha

Grampa snow-shoeing with his pack basket.

Original view of interior of camp.
Interior of camp today
Photo with bed box open.

Grampa on the front porch at camp.

Pappy on the boat ride in.

Grampa at camp.

Canadian Jays - yes they are that brave to come right inside the camp.


  1. Love your story. I worked on Grand Lake Matagamon back in 1977 and fell in love with the area and it's history. Love the books by E.W. Smith and the art work of 'Jake' Day.

    Thanks for the tale.

  2. Hi John,

    I'm sorry - I have been neglecting my blog and did not see your comment until just now. I'm glad you enjoyed the story of the camp. I will need to take a look at the books and artwork you mentioned. I don't make it home nearly enough, and sometimes reading about it helps :)

    Thanks again!