January 3, 2014

Changes on Tap for Wassataquoik Camping in 2014!

Wassataquoik Lake from the viewpoint above Little Wassataquoik Lake
Backcountry travelers in the Park will find some changes in camping opportunities in the Wassataquoik Lake area in 2014.


The Wassataquoik Lake and Little Wassataquoik Lakes area have provided remote backcountry camping opportunities for Park visitors for many decades.  Wassataquiok Lake (178 ac.) is one of the most beautiful and pristine water bodies in the Park and one of the few Park waters supporting a natural population of blueback trout or arctic char (Salvelinus alpines).  Little Wassataquoik Lake (10 ac.) is a small high mountain pond perched at the height of land north of Wassataquoik Lake.  The Park provides two sites in the area, a canoe-access only leanto on Wassataquoik Lake Island and a leanto on Little Wassataquoik Lake. 

Little Wassataquoik Lake
 The Wassataquoik Island site has been a very popular site for backcountry campers for many years.  Until 2007, the site provided a small, primitive cabin.  After consideration, this cabin was replaced with a standard cedar log leanto.  Wassataquoik Island also preferred nesting habitat for loons on Wassataquoik Lake.  Loons often construct a nest and tend an egg on the west side of the island in close proximity to the access route to the campsite.  Loons have selected this area more or less continuously for many years.  In order to avoid possible disturbance to the loons during the nesting period, the Park has closed the site to rental until it has been determined that the loons are either not nesting that season or the egg has been hatched and the adult loons and chick have moved out into the larger area of Wassataquoik Lake.  Normally, this process is concluded by August 1st and the site can be opened for rental.  Occasionally, the egg is not viable or the loons lays a new clutch for various reasons.  In these cases the loons will sit on the egg for a much longer time, delaying the opening of the site until the middle of August.  In the 1990’s, Park staff considered relocating the island campsite to another location on the southern half of Wassataquoik Lake.  Reconnaissance of the lakeshore area did not produce any acceptable site for relocation.  During this same time period, the option of relocating the Little Wassataquoik Leanto to another location on Little Wassataquoik Lake was also examined.  Although many of the issues identified with the current location of this leanto were discussed during this earlier review, no action was taken on this consideration.

 In the winter of 2013, Park staff cleared a winter-access trail from the Park Tote Road to Center Pond, west and south of Little Wassataquoik Lake.  The trail provided winter snowmobile access to haul in materials for a leanto at Center Pond.  The Center Pond leanto was constructed in the spring of 2013 and opened for rental in the summer of the same year.  With the completion of the Center Pond leanto, consideration rose regarding the leanto at Little Wassataquoik Lake, as the trail access cleared to reach Center Pond would also provide a good start on accessing the Little Wassataquoik Lake site, but without other needs, the trail should be left to return to its natural state.  The trail issue prompted a revival of the review process of both the Little Wassataquoik Lake site and the loon nesting impacts on the Wassataquoik Island site.  The area between the north end of Wassataquiok Lake and the leanto at Little Wassataquoik Lake was examined by several members of Park staff including administrative, enforcement ranger and campground ranger staff. 
BSP Staff Taylor, Hoekwater, Woodard and Morrill recon site options
The reconnaissance produced data and assessments on the Little Wassataquoik Lake leanto and five alternate sites in the area.

Planned Changes

After careful consideration and discussion, here’s what we decided.  I’m certain that there will be hikers who think these changes are great and others who will disagree.  The changes are intended to protect the flora and fauna of the area, while providing a variety of recreational opportunities to backcountry campers.

1.       Construction of a new leanto, privy and access trail at Alternate site 6.  The site will be named “Wassataquoik Lake”. 

The shared conclusion of the reviewing group is that the current status of the Little Wassataquoik leanto site is unacceptable.  Several alternate sites were reviewed.  In addition, the general lack of tentsite opportunities in the area was also considered.  This led to the determination and review of alternate sites 3 and 4 as tentsite opportunities.  As consideration widened to include the concerns of the loon nesting issue at Wassataquoik Island, a stronger consensus emerged that the establishment of a second appealing site on Wassataquoik Lake would provide a good alternative to campers in the early season when the island site is closed.  The existence of a good alternative within the reasonable hiking distance of Russell Pond Campground (3.9 mi.) would also allow a firmer opening date to be set for the Wassataquoik Island Leanto of August 15.  This date will better ensure the annual opportunity for loons to nest undisturbed on the island shore.  Alternate site 6 emerged as the clear best opportunity for this additional leanto.  Alternate site 6 is within reasonable hiking distance of the Center Pond Leanto (5.5 mi.) and can be reached by stronger hikers in one day from the trailhead at Nesowadnehunk Field (10.2 mi).  The site is appealing, located on well-drained soils and can be enhanced by a dedicated canoe.  A modest length of trail will be required to access the site to the Wassataquoik Lake Trail and provides good privacy to the site from the main trail.  Opportunities to successfully site a privy between the leanto and the main trail appear to be good.

2.       Removal of the Little Wassataquoik Leanto and conversion of this site to a tentsite. The existing privy on site will be retained.  Selected trees around the tentsite will be removed to admit some sun and airflow to the site.

With the decision to install a new leanto on Wassataquiok Lake on alternate site 6, attention returned to the issue of tentsites in the area.  After careful consideration of alternative sites 3 and 4, the option of utilizing the current Little Wassataquiok Lake leanto site as a tentsite emerged.  This option would allow the use of the existing privy and would recognize the attraction of the spring brook at the site.  The overgrown and dark nature of the site could be corrected with some careful and judicious removal of trees and vegetation around and over the site.  The establishment of this site as a tentsite will allow reasonable access to Russell Pond from Nesowadnehunk Field (9.4 mi.) by tent campers.

Park Naturalist Jean Hoekwater checks shoreland plants at Little Wassataquoik Lake
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the Maine Army National Guard in a training exercise in November.  Guard Black Hawk helicopters moved in cedar logs and other materials and supplies for the new leanto.  We hope to complete the leanto construction by June 1 and to site and construct the new privy for the site by July 15.  The site at Little Wassataquoik should be converted to a tentsite by June 15.  Keep an eye on our website for the announcement of the opening of the new leanto - it's a really great site!