Dear Big Eddy friends,
It’s a fairly small act, but I always feel a big dose of happiness when I flip the calendar from December to January. Yes, it’s exciting to think about the new year ahead but it’s also the official time when I can finally say to Big Eddy friends and guests, “I’ll see you later this year!”. It’s like we’re all that much closer to reuniting at Big Eddy, and during the middle of winter that can feel oh so good for the soul.
The snowfall got off to a slow start here in Maine with December and the first half of January not producing any lofty snow totals. That all changed about a month ago though. A foot of snow here, and a foot plus the week after, and now the snowbanks lining the Golden Road grab your attention. If you’ve never taken a ride up the Golden Road during the winter, it’s quite delightful. The fairly smooth, low trafficked road is much different than the rattling, pothole-filled, dusty road we are all so acquainted with during the campground season. Animal tracks catch your gaze and to see a snow-capped Mt. Katahdin is truly something special. I always find myself thinking that the mountain too sees a shift in the seasons, just like Big Eddy. So many people visit the numerous campgrounds within Baxter State Park during the summer months, just like they flock to the waters of the West Branch. Yet, come winter, most activity comes to a halt and the land and forest return to the wild animals once again.
I made a trip north to the campground a couple of weekends ago. Keeping the solar panels mostly cleared of snow was my main duty heading into the winter. While I wasn’t quite successful completing that task this time around, I cleared what I was able to and confirmed the rest of the campground looked to be in good shape. Snowshoes were definitely required as there was 2+ feet of snow on the ground.
Meet the Year-Round Local
I, and the rest of the Big Eddy team, feel very fortunate to have another set of eyes on Big Eddy during the winter months, as well as during the operating season. Some of you may have met Game Warden Johansen at the campground over the years. He enjoys swinging in to say hello and grabbing a cup of coffee. I can’t take credit for the feature of Bob in this issue of the newsletter, that idea came from Greg Shute, Chewonki’s Director of Northern and Coastal Properties. We thought you’d enjoy reading a bit about him, giving you a glimpse past the uniform and badge.
I’m Game Warden Bob Johansen, and some of you reading this may know me from seeing me around Big Eddy during the summer months because I’m the local Game Warden assigned to this area. I do enjoy stopping in at the “Eddy” to say hello and enjoy a cup of coffee on the porch when I get time. I’ve been “The Game Warden” in this area for the past 11 years and I plan on staying right here until I decide to retire someday.
A little bit about me, I graduated high school in Millinocket, went into the Marine Corps and served 4 years before returning to Millinocket where I quickly became attached to Theresa, who has now been my wife for nearly 27 years. She is also the mother of our only son, Christopher who now lives and works in the midcoast area with his own growing family.
I became a Game Warden in 2003 after several years as a Police Officer. I decided that I was tired of taking time off from work to go spend time in the woods so I found a job that would pay me to be – in the woods. Fortunately, my wife and son supported this move and we began our adventure. We landed in Daaquam first for almost 2 years before moving to the Chamberlain Lake area where I enjoyed working the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and all the resources that area had to offer. In 2010, we decided to make the move to Rip Dam where we are still today. This move reduced their round trip every day to school from 110 miles to 60 miles. We both enjoy living and recreating in this area as much as I enjoy working here. Our German Shepard “Otto” is a very present member of our home and everyday lives as well.
The change of the seasons makes my work seem not so much like work most days. I hike, boat, kayak, canoe, and snowmobile many miles throughout the year in some of the most beautiful places Maine has to offer.Most of the time, I must remind myself that I’m working while doing most of it. I enjoy engaging with the fishermen, hunters, snowmobilers, hikers and many others recreating in the area. My visits to the “Eddy” are always enjoyable where I meet many first-time visitors and many more who have been coming here to the area for decades. There’s an amazing abundance of resources here and I enjoy the responsibility of protecting it for all of us to enjoy in any way we decide to do that.
The Beauty and the River
One of the backbone reasons for wanting to create the Big Eddy Newsletter was to feature the many admirable guests. Over my seven seasons here, I have met many wonderful people and the encounters have flourished into friendships and staying in touch over the winter season. I reached out to George and Janice Betts to see if they’d be interested in sharing their story. The family visits the campground a few times each July. Maybe you haven’t met them yet, but you might recognize the photo George shared in his story. Each visit, George launches their beautiful wooden drift boat into the eddy, their river dog Bo already at the helm, he assists Janice inside the boat, and downriver they go. Here’s their story about how they first stumbled upon Big Eddy.
I was 43 years old the first time I saw the Big Eddy in the summer of 1990. My wife Janice and I are farmers in the southern part of New Jersey and we have a vacation camp in Kokadjo, Maine. We had become good friends with a Greenville man named John McCloud. He was a Maine Guide and his nickname was Riverboat John. We had been helping John with his garden in town and he wanted to take us fishing to pay us back. I was just learning how to fly cast and didn’t want to embarrass myself but Janice made me go. At noon the next day, we met John at the Kokadjo General Store. He had an old truck and trailer with a big drift boat on it. It was the first boat I ever saw with such a strange design plus there was no motor and it had only oars. Janice and I bought John lunch at the store. Then, we bounced our way north to the Golden Road passing through the gate at Sias Hill. They reminded us that the gate closed at 10:00pm! It was almost 3:00pm when we rolled into the Big Eddy Campground and John knew everyone staying there. Peter Pray and his wife Bunny were the owners and everyone was so friendly and relaxed. You could tell right off this was a fisherman’s paradise and most of the campsites along the Eddy were all fly fishermen. All they did was tie flies, talk, eat and fish. What a life! Most only fished the Eddy from their canoes or wade fished the pools around the gorge. Riverboat John said, “We are going downriver,” as we helped him launch his drift boat on a very rough ramp into a backwater. It’s almost 5:00pm by the time we shuttled the trailer and John rigged us up with fly rods. I was embarrassed that someone was watching me cast so John rowed us to the head of the Eddy. He told me to just let some line straight out and retrieve it slowly and “bam” a salmon jumped out of the river, took the fly and ran out of line. I’m the one who got hooked that summer afternoon. We fished until dark and were too late to make the gate before it closed so we drove to the marina on Ripogenus Lake and they gave John a cabin to spend the night but we were so excited we could not sleep. John stayed up late tying flies to match the hatch and they are the same patterns we use today. The following winter, Janice and I hired a craftsman to build us our own wooden drift boat back in New Jersey. I wanted it strong so we used ¾ inch African Mahogany that was as pretty as it was strong. We bought a set of 10 foot oars and I practiced rowing that spring on tidal rivers in New Jersey. Everyone who saw our boat said how pretty she was so we named her The Beauty and trailered her to Maine the summer of 1991. We bought a season boat ramp pass from Peter Pray, and Janice and I and our hound dog Boomer would stay at Nancy Pray’s camps by Ripogenus Dam. I would put on my lifejacket and just keep running the river to the Wardens Pool takeout over and over till I felt safe to take Janice and our river dog. As the years passed, we never missed a summer and we love the West Branch River and the Big Eddy. Chewonki bought the campground from Peter Pray and they have done an amazing job helping young people see the river of life through their Foundation and programs while keeping the character of the Big Eddy for fisherman, rafters, kayakers and hikers. We thank Sarah and all the staff at Chewonki for keeping the river open for us, Bo and our big wooden Beauty. Keep your eyes open in July and you might see it floating by!
~ George & Janice Betts & Bo Dog
Big Eddy Improvement Fund
And finally, because I can’t let you leave without giving a nod to our continuous efforts to raise money for the Big Eddy Improvement Fund. The fund was created almost a year ago with the goal of raising $58,000 over a 2-year period for bettering Big Eddy. On the time chart, we’re nearly halfway there, but our fish chart shows us still a bit below water. Can you inch us up towards the surface a little?
As a non-profit organization, we rely on generous donations from folks like you to help maintain and improve the campground. Some projects we have our sights set on are:
- New solar panels & generator
- Cabin improvements
- Campground amenities & landscaping
- Upgrades to the water system
To date, we have raised $11,323 and we want to thank each of you who contributed to the fund.
Book Now for Spring
Lastly, it’s probably no surprise that dates and sites are filling up fast for the upcoming season. If you’ve been putting off planning your trip, you might want to start thinking about it and check availability. If you have any questions, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to assist you.
There’s only about eleven weeks to go until opening day! May the rest of your winter be healthy and allow you time and space to get outdoors and soak up the fresh air.
See you soon,
Big Eddy Site Manager