by Esther J. Perne
The season of 1994 was a pivotal summer for the region, for the Belgrade chain of lakes, for central Maine and for the century-old tourism trend of rustic camps, small seasonal businesses and relaxed resort lifestyles.
In the summer of 1994 many were the beginnings of change that have carried over into today, that have resulted in more appreciation of the natural and economic resources of the area, more attention to the required stewardship of the region and more acknowledgement of the emerging importance of regional links.
Being linked together by a chain of lakes, which is where it all begins, is no small responsibility and the link of the lakes solidified a lot during the summer of 1994. It prompted the expansion of social activities and environmental concerns. It prompted an acceleration of education and information about all the lakes, all the towns, all the properties. And it prompted a resurgence of lake associations and a revival of those long in place.
The mantra in 1994 was do go near the water, do so safely. It wasn't unusual to see the Central Maine Association of Rescue Divers practicing off Peninsula Park in Belgrade Lakes which offered good water clarity and depth and rough rapids from the dam to simulate river rescues. Among the divers, the Kennebec County Sheriffs had one of the most active and dedicated diving units in the state, with 12 divers part of the department staff.
Going near, getting into, caring for the lakes was especially called into play by Lake Week '94: the annual celebration of Maine's lakes a time to educate, publicize, promote through lake awareness activities. Started in 1988 with assistance and funding from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Lakeweek in 1993 was taken over by the Congress of Lake Associations COLA (now known as the Maine Lakes Society) but was implemented uniquely by each lake association's clean-up and appreciation endeavors such as the No-Octane Regatta, Anything- But-Fish Derby, Wildlife Paddle and decorated boat parade.
The highlight of Lake Week '94 was the COLA conference at Colby College in Waterville and the highlight of the conference for Belgraders may have been the pronouncement by director of China Lake's remediation, George Lord, that Great Pond would be next to turn green, a pronouncement that would become the watershed's catalyst to proactivity year round.
Year-roundness became one of the biggest changes that can be credited to the developments of 1994: year round meetings and newsletters, expanded memberships, getting all the lake associations to work together. Indeed, the first combined meeting of all the lake associations of the Belgrades was held that September to explore alliance alternatives which soon led to the establishment of the Belgrade youth conservation corps, to a strong relationship with Colby College which was invited to use upper Long Pond as a classroom that fall and to the eventual preparedness for other challenges the lakes continue to meet.
It wasn't all lake news in the summer of 1994. Indeed Maine Farm Days, basically a trade show for farmers, which was held at the Rowbottom Family farm in Norridgewock almost had a crowd control situation due to the unanticipated attendance of nonfarmer folks who rode the wagons, took the tours, ate the ice cream and loved the whole experience.
By summer's end, one trend was certain: 1994 was a golden era for volunteerism. The information building on Route 27 on the southern approach to Belgrade was open daily, staffed by volunteers and their ideas, material, labor and time (especially time) were all part of their contribution to promoting the vacation experience to passersby and welcoming visitors from six other countries and eighteen other states.
By summer's end there was also, well … the promise of controversial construction in downtown Belgrade Lakes. After 70 years, it was time for a new bridge across the Belgrade Stream (a.k.a. The Channel) and even though the Maine Department of Transportation assured the anglers in the community that the dam area would be open in time for fishing many other residents had serious concerns. Would spectators still be able to line the bridge to listen to the annual loon calling contest. Would pedestrians still have their scenic sidewalk on the Long Pond side. And, what about parking?? Four spaces, it was rumored, would be lost.
As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.