ChipLakeNEWS InfoSheet

This InfoSheet is number: 0032

Summary: Aroostook Magazine Interview
with Dick Dickinson and Jerry Wilson

(Keep in mind that this interview was done in the 1990s...many things have changed since then.)

When we think of water as a defining part of the international boundary between Aroostook County and New Brunswick, we’re likely to think of the upper Saint John River, from Hamlin, Maine and Grand Falls, N. B. in the east to St. Francis/Connors far upriver. But there is another international waterway in the southern part of our region, one which stretches from Orient/Fosterville south to Vanceboro/St. Croix. This waterway is known as the Chiputneticook Lakes. It includes Monument Brook, North Lake, East Grand Lake, Mud Lake, Spednic Lake and Palfrey Lake.

The members of CLIC, the Chiputneticook Lakes International Conservancy, live or have interests along both sides of the waterway. They work together to monitor the lakes and to learn about anything that may affect the waterway or the people who live around it. Two CLIC board members, Jerry Wilson of Houlton and Fosterville and Harold “Dick” Dickinson of Orient, sat down with Aroostook Magazine to discuss their organization.

Jerry Wilson: Our purpose is to represent all of the users of our lakes, which form the headwaters of the St. Croix River. A few of us got together in 1992 and started talking about the fact that fishing was getting pretty poor and decided that we wanted to form an association that would have some power that would be able to work with state and provincial officials, as far as the fishery goes. So we rounded up a couple of other friends, and four of us continued to talk and that’s how it started. Now we represent all who use the lake, not only the people who fish, but also the people who use the lake for recreation and those concerned about water quality. We want everyone to know that we’re watching out for their interests. The water level is a big issue on East Grand Lake, which involves a whole host of things, how the dams are controlled, who operates the dams and the regulations that govern those operators.

Dick Dickinson: We certainly do represent users of the waterway, but, in addition, we sort of represent the waterway itself. There were a lot of issues surrounding water quality and water level…water heights, and we became aware that our “inhabitants”, not only those living around the lake, but also those living in the lake, that everybody and everything needed to have an advocate. Everyone was speaking with individual voices and there seemed to be no clear concerned voice; there was need to speak with one voice, and that’s why CLIC people came together. And as we came together to address the issues that concerned us at the time, we began to identify a lot of other issues that we didn’t realize were there. One of the major activities of the organization has been education, mostly of ourselves. There were so many organizations that apparently had jurisdiction that we needed to learn just how they actually related to the waterway, and so we’ve been affiliating with and working with as many of those groups as possible to find out just who does have power and who regulates the various agencies…in two countries. Anything about international waters…that’s a whole different ball of wax than it is for an inland lake.

How many members are in CLIC?

Dick: We represent only about 100 families currently. Some members are day users of the waterway and some summer folks, but largely it’s people that live around here all year…and we need to represent all of them. We’ve fallen short of our goal to involve a large number of all the people who use any of the Chiputneticook Lakes and Streams and we’ll work toward that goal, starting this summer.

It appears that the Maine side of the lakes is built up more than the New Brunswick side.

Jerry: Yes, that’s definitely true. Although in the last five or six years, there has been a fair number of new camps built on the Canadian side, especially on East Grand.

Dick: Most of the original construction sites on the U.S. side were private lots, sold from old farms and they were privately owned properties. Little by little all of that was used up. Most of the rest of the U.S. side belongs to paper companies, who were, for a while, leasing, but then became very reluctant to do even that.

Explain the waterway you deal with.

Jerry: The overall description needs to include that the Chiputneticook Lakes Region along with the waterway below it, the St. Croix River and it’s tributaries form the physical U.S.—Canadian border from the Atlantic Ocean north to the beginning of Monument Stream. The headwaters of North Lake are Monument Stream and all the brooks and streams that feed it from the north. The stream originates at the southern end of the surveyed U.S./Canadian Border about 10 miles south of Houlton and flows into North Lake, then by way of The Thoroughfare into East Grand, probably the lake which is most developed. Then, below the dam in Forest City, there’s a stream and a small lake called Mud Lake, and Spednic Lake, which is the fourth in the chain. Palfrey Lake could be viewed as an arm of Spednic and lies entirely within Canada at the southern end of Spednic. At Vanceboro, another dam controls the level of both Spednic and Palfrey Lakes and then the Saint Croix River begins and flows to the ocean…we’re interested in the lakes that form the headwaters of the St. Croix River.

What are some of the activities of the CLIC?

Dick: In the spring of each year, our members assist the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in stocking the lake. We’ve been successful in getting them to take young salmon to more spawning locations than they used to do. CLIC was responsible, as much as any other organization, in forming the Saint Croix Stakeholders organization, a group of like-minded organizations—governmental, municipal, and private, like our own—that have any interest or any stake in what happenes regarding all the waters of the total Saint Croix Waterway. It’s the first time that there was any attempt at coalition building around the use of this waterway. We worked with the International Joint Commission (IJC), which was put together by the federal governments of the United States and Canada; they have sole control and responsibility for the heights and flows of the water in the entire waterway. We assisted them in a recent investigation of just how the regulations governing the flows in the rivers might be change . . . and that process is ongoing.

Jerry: In addition to our serious undertakings, we’ve always had social affairs . . . our annual meetings in the summertime with a cookout when the general membership can get together and meet for a few hours; that’s when most of our camp owners are around, even those from southern Maine or out-of-state or Canada. We have other summer activities, such as a boat parade and sailboat regatta on East Grand that’s becoming more popular and a Float Down on Spednic, and this year we’re planning a canoe race and perhaps an ice fishing derby in the winter.

Tell us about the “float down.”

Dick: We did it a couple of years ago, and we’re going to do it again this year on Spednic Lake. Spednic is much more remote than East Grand and, in fact, most of the folks who live on East Grand have never been on Spednic. One of our active guides, Lance Wheaton, has spent most of his life on Spednic and so he serves as our guide. We put boats in at the northern end of the lake and spent a day, stop at a famous campsite called The Ledges, and have a lunch and then go down the entire length of the lake to the dam at Vanceboro and back; its a wonderful outing. Spednic is not well developed, and recently there have been purchases of large tracts of land to make the area “forever wild,” and some of those pieces of land have been put in land trusts. A great deal of the remaining land is owned by either paper companies or the New Brunswick Government, and they are now in the process of severely limiting development along that lake; it’s really a pristine area, and one that I wish everybody could spend a day on…it’s a lovely piece of water.

Jerry: It’s a real wilderness area and when you’re on Spednic Lake, you really don’t get a sense of the rest of the world; it’s wild and rocky. There’s a lot of wildlife and not a whole lot of people.

Dick: We were talking a minute or two ago about memberships, and about the uses of the lake. We ask people who join CLIC what’s most important to them regarding activities on the lake, and one of the categories that we list is “aesthetic appreciation.” Nearly everyone, if they don’t check fishing as #1, check aesthetic appreciation…just the being there, just being able to soak it all in is important to CLIC members.

Controlling the water levels is certainly a concern of most people.

Jerry: Yes, especially because there are a variety of types of users of the waterway. Canoeists want water in the rivers; fishermen want higher water levels later on in the summer. And the reservoirs (the lakes) have to be drained in the fall to make room for fall rain and spring runoff, and that’s always unpopular with the landowners and especially the boaters. There really needs to be lot of education around this issue. Georgia-Pacific (now Domtar) has done a good job in the last few years in managing water levels, but we have real concerns about what would happen if Georgia-Pacific no longer operates those mills and stops controling the dams.

Is there a possibility that they might close?

Jerry: There are stories in the paper about cutbacks and layoffs at the mill in Woodland (Washington County). There’s always a bit of nervousness about what happens, if we have to deal with new people who may have a different philosophy about how to use and manage water, or if Georgia-Pacific should just leave without selling, as has happened in other waterways; they open the gates and go away. Those things really concern us.

Does CLIC have input into management decision?

Jerry: That’s why we formed the Stakeholders organization which is made up of various groups, including municipalities all the way along the waterway, the Maine Fish and Wildlife Departments and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans from Canada, the Passamaquoddy Nation (of native americans), Georgia-Pacific (the paper company) and many Maine and New Brunswick Guides Associations…and CLIC which represents everyone concerned with the northern region of lakes.

Dick: The Stakeholders organization is one of the three organizations with direct input to the International Joint Commission’s review. Even though we have direct input into the process, we’re sorry to say that we’re not very pleased with the results as there has not been a real opportunity for any kind of at-length discussion of the issues surrounding the regulation of the waterway; there just has not been an opportunity to sit down with all concerned and have productive work sessions on the issues.

Jerry: One other important activity is education; we’ve purchased a fish-rearing tank for East Grand High School in Danforth, and for the last three years they have raised young salmon from eggs and released them into the watershed each season.

Dick: We’re also part of the Fish Friends Program of the New England Salmon Federation. They supply the expertise and then, sort of monitor the program and we’ve been able to provide the equipment which makes that possible, and to be an ongoing active partner.

How do you pay for the equipment?

Jerry: We’ve never done any formal fund-raising; we’ve been able to fund our activities and projects directly from dues, and we’ve been very conservative with our funds; we get a good bang for our buck.

What environmental work does CLIC do?

Jerry: A number of our members are water quality monitors who do water clarity readings, and we’re affiliated with the Saint Croix International Waterway Commission, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, who do hands-on workshops with us. This has been happening for 5 years, and we get excellent water clarity readings, excellent when compared with readings elsewhere in Maine.

Are jet skis an issue on the waterway?

Jerry: Yeah, it’s an issue. It’s probably not as big an issue as other places, because these lakes are big bodies of water. But there are always those that will go close to shore and through the thoroughfares and cause some problems.

How are these lakes for fishing?

Jerry: Well, it’s a great small mouth bass lake in the last 10-15 years, and also it’s a great landlocked salmon lake, for years and years and we catch a fair amount of lake trout and white perch…those are the predominant species. We also have large populations of common loons on the lakes, and if you want to see some bald eagles, a trip down Spednic Lake would surely show you some.

North Lake and the Thoroughfare between North and East Grand has a pretty good population of pickerel. It’s a very famous bass fishery, and perhaps because few fisherman have even heard of landlocked salmon, the fishery is smaller but the size of the salmon it produces has improved significantly over the past few years.

How big are the Chiputneticook Lakes?

Dick: These lakes are big lakes. East Grand Lake covers approximately 16,000 acres…there are a reported 365 miles of shoreline and it is almost 18 miles long, I would say. Spednic is an even larger body of water, much narrower than East Grand at it’s widest, but much longer, and, really, all of these lakes are expansions of the original St. Croix River. If the dams weren’t there, we really would have just wide spots in the river.

Any final words about the organization?

Dick: The kind of things that we do, as Jerry stated, are varied. CLIC is social, it’s information, it’s advocacy, and sometimes the lines between those ideas are pretty blurred, but it’s a wonderful organization. When we started, those of us who lived on the U. S. side knew very little about any of the agencies in Canada that had jurisdiction and similarly, the people that lived on the Canadian side didn’t know much about us or the jurisdictions here. The friendships and knowledge that have developed has become some of the real benefits of this association because I now know people in New Brunswick—in their agencies—as well as or maybe even better in some cases, than I know my own. We’ve been able to develop a real good working relationship with those folks and I think it’s helped to bring our two communities together. There seems to be a lot more trust because of the organization, and people participate without concern as to whether they’re an American or Canadian, or where their camp is situated.

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