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by Pete Kallin
Greetings to the greater Belgrade Lakes Community and welcome back summer residents and visitors. The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about how we interact with other people, do shopping, and the types of activities that we are comfortable carrying out. It has also clearly shown the great value we place on having clean, healthy lakes and forests where we can safely spend time with family and friends and at least temporarily find refuge from external stresses.
When I was growing up and there was any kind of ruckus in the house, which was pretty common with six kids, my mother would tell us, “Take it outside!” We would then head out to the woods behind the house to find something to do.
During the current pandemic, public health officials are also telling us to “take it outside.” Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy, and carefully planned and executed outdoor activities are inherently safer than indoor activities.
COVID-19 is a very contagious respiratory infection that is spread primarily by inhaling miniscule droplets that have been exhaled by an infected person. The outdoor environment provides far greater dissipation and dilution of potentially harmful exhalations. It is still possible to become infected outdoors, but it is far less likely, and you generally have more control over the space around you. When performing outdoor activities, it is still important to exercise proper “social distancing” (minimum six feet), avoid crowded areas, wash your hands frequently and wear a face mask in the presence of others.
As I write this, all the local 7-Lakes Alliance and State of Maine (Kennebec Highlands) hiking trails and preserves are open for use by the public but have guidelines posted for their safe use. I encourage people to get out and use the trails, especially with your families. But follow all guidelines and be safe. Avoid creating a situation where you need to be rescued by an already stressed first-responder network. Visit the 7-Lakes Alliance website for further guidance and updates and to download maps of the trails.
Like last year, this winter seemed to come and go, with snow followed by melting, rain, and then more snow and cold. The ice fishing was decent and the skiing was excellent on the trails in the Kennebec Highlands between thaws. The ice went out early in the second week of April, about two weeks earlier than last year, followed by a cool, windy spring. The fishing has been good, especially for bass, pike, and trout. I’ve caught several rainbow trout in the 20″ range and at least ten pike since ice out, including one that was over 14 pounds taken on my ultralight spinning rod with 4# test line. By the time this article is published, the water temperature will be in the mid to high 60s in most of our lakes and the bass will be in the shallows, either on their own beds or chasing sunfish on theirs. Fast action can be had with streamer flies, surface poppers, jerk baits, or Senko type jigs.
The 7 Lakes Alliance (formerly the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance) and Friends of Messalonskee have been preparing for summer, hiring Courtesy Boat Inspectors, milfoil divers, and Youth Conservation Corps members to help protect our lakes. The programs are slightly modified this year due to restrictions required by compliance with various COVID-19 Executive orders but they will still be able to continue to protect our lakes and enable young people to gain valuable job skills in a beautiful outdoor setting.
The hiking trails (including some new ones!) in the Kennebec Highlands and nearby 7-Lakes Alliance (former BRCA) properties like French Mountain, Mount Phillip, Fogg Island, and The Mountain are beautiful, verdant, and awash in spring and early summer wildflowers like trillium and lady slippers and birds and other wildlife. I have been doing a lot of hiking and am encouraged by the number of families out on the trails with young kids, like the Duffy Family from Waterville out on French Mountain on a recent beautiful spring day. Christian grew up in Belgrade and has been hiking French Mountain as long as he can remember. Now his wife, Hannah, and kids, Finn, and Elsie, are doing the same thing.
Check the 7LA FaceBook site for upcoming events. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the wealth of recreational opportunities this area offers. With COVID restrictions in place, some of your family’s normal summer activities like organized team sports or going to indoor movie theaters may not be an option. Do like they used to in “the good old days” and take a kid fishing, or on a hike, or paddling in a canoe. It’s how memories are made. Or take a parent, so he or she can become a kid again.
Pete Kallin is a past director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which merged with the Maine Lakes Resource Center in December 2017 to form the 7-Lakes Alliance.