by Pete Kallin
Greetings to the Belgrade Lakes community, and welcome back to summer residents and visitors. I am heartened by the rapid decline in COVID-19 cases in Maine as more of the population is vaccinated and we are approaching what infectious disease experts call "herd immunity." After an incredibly stressful and crazy year, we appear to be finally approaching a bit of normalcy.
The 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. Every study continues to show outside activities are far safer than those conducted inside.
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 to "Take it outside!" We would then head out to the woods behind the house to find something to do.
My mother was a wise woman. Fifty years before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods in 2008, she had an innate understanding of "Nature Deficit Disorder" and knew that direct exposure to nature is essential for a child's healthy physical and emotional development. Louv and others later proved that kids who spend a lot of time outside are healthier, have longer attention spans, and are less likely to suffer from depression or childhood obesity.
If you haven't read Louv's book, you should. I hope this column will inspire you to take advantage of all the outdoor recreation opportunities in our area and especially about the importance of getting youngsters outside and interacting with Mother Nature. Mother Nature is an amazing teacher. We can all learn from her, especially in these stressful times.
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. 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 in accordance with CDC guidelines. I encourage people to get out and use the trails, especially with your families. But follow all guidelines and be safe. Visit the 7-Lakes Alliance website for the latest 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 went out in the first week of April, about a week earlier than last year, followed by a cool, windy spring.
The fishing has been good, especially for bass, pike, and trout. Just before Memorial Day Weekend, I found a big school of 16-18″ (2 to 3 pounds) smallmouth bass that were sitting on top of a bigger school of landlocked alewives in a 30-ft deep hole surrounded by about 20-ft of water. The bass were keeping the baitfish penned in that area and having their way with them. I caught and released about 25 bass in less than two hours, mostly on white zonker streamer flies. Several of the bass regurgitated alewives in my net as I unhooked them. I also caught a nice red, white, white and blue rainbow trout that hit a red, white, and blue Mooselook wobbler, that I released due to its demonstrated patriotism.
Over on Messalonskee Lake, Lane Palleschi celebrated his 15th birthday in style with his friend, Evan Carlson. They went fishing with Mike Guarino and caught lots of nice smallmouth bass. 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. These programs 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 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. Check the 7LA Website and Facebook page for upcoming events.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of the wealth of recreational opportunities this area offers. Do like they used to in "the good old days" and take a kid fishing, hiking, or paddling in a canoe. It's how memories are made. Or take a parent, so they can become a kid again.