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Deboullie, Eagle Lake campsite proposals preview future considerations

ASHLAND, Maine — The Maine Bureau of Public Lands is proposing small changes to campsites at the Deboullie and Eagle Lake Public Reserved Lands, and also looking ahead to broader conversations about northern Aroostook County’s public reserved lands in 2022.

The BPL, a part of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, held a public hearing on the proposals in Ashland on May 9, with officials outlining the ideas behind the changes and gathering input from a small group of members of the public.

The proposals call for adding one or more campsites for vehicle-drawn trailer campers within the 21,871-acre Deboullie lands and allowing ATV riders to access the Alec Brook campsite in the Eagle Lake unit, which spans 24,083 acres on the eastern half of Eagle Lake.

Some people have already used Deboullie campsites “in a makeshift way with a camper trailer,” said Jim Vogel, senior planner with the BPL.

“We see there is an opportunity in multiple places to do this kind of expansion of campsites,” he said of the Deboullie proposal. “All of them are already accessible by public access roads.

Vogel said it’s not clear if more people are visiting or camping at Deboullie, which is located west of Route 11. Access to and camping at most Maine public reserved lands is free, and the state does not track the number of campers, he said.

A view from the old Deboullie Mountain fire tower on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, overlooking Gardner Pond, reveals the oncoming burst of fall colors in Aroostook County. (Courtesy of Anna Battiata)

If the proposal for camper trailers goes forward, the number of campsites at Deboullie will still remain at no more than 30, he said. Currently, 23 of those are accessible by vehicle.

At Eagle Lake, the BPL has proposed allowing ATV access — and possibly vehicle access in the future — to the Alec Brook campsite since all of the Eagle Lake campsites are currently only accessible by boat, said Verne Labbe, deputy director for public lands.

If the proposal is OK’d, over the next several years the BPL would improve a half-mile of a gravel road leading to the site, barricading it to vehicles other than ATVs for the time being, Labbe said.

“The idea here is we’re going to construct a road that’s accessible by a pickup for the potential in five years when the plan is redone that it could become a drive-to campsite.”

The staff initially proposed going ahead with vehicle access sooner, but decided to wait and see “how much use and abuse” of the road happens, Labbe said.

“If it’s such that it gets out of hand and we have all kinds of issues, well, that will help determine which way it’s going to go in the future.”

The proposal for allowing ATVs to the Alec Brook campsite did receive opposition from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which argued that the motor vehicle access would impact “the semi-remote character of the area.

Vogel said the BPL considered those concerns but concluded that campers accessing the site via ATVs wouldn’t add much impact, as the site is currently popular as a day-use site among boaters.  

“These sites are heavily used by the boating public now, with dozens of people,” Vogel said, showing a photo of dozens of boats lined up along the shore. “It’s not exactly a quiet experience during the summer.”

The Eagle Lake public reserved unit currently has no campsites accessible by vehicles or ATVs, Labbe said. Elsewhere in the state’s public reserved land system, the BPL has added campsites that are easier to access by vehicle or hiking trails to accommodate demand from the public, Labbe said.

At Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land in Hancock County, hunters first requested a drive-to campsite but it has since become popular with general recreationalists, Labbe said.

For people visiting public reserved lands for a free camping vacation, vacation time is often limited and people want to be able to reliably access a site, he said.

“It’s not like people used to take a week and go camping. Now, it’s three days, two days.”

For sites that are only accessible by boats, poor weather may throw a wrench in plans to make the most of scarce vacation time. “Having one site you can drive to is beneficial,” Labbe said.

Public comments on the Deboullie and Eagle Lake proposals will be accepted until May 23, and can be sent to the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The agency is expected to make a final decision this summer.

The proposals are being considered as amendments to the 15-year management plan for the Northern Aroostook Public Reserved Lands. That management plan started in 2007 and was among the first in the state to address public reserved lands within a region, rather than individual units, Labbe said.

In response to questions about adding adirondack camping shelters and additional boat launches at Eagle Lake, Labbe said that the BPL will be having broader discussions with the public about new ideas when the entire management plan is updated in 2022.

“All of this will be revisited in a bigger way,” Labbe said.

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