Last month, students in grades 5/6/7 at the Elementary School at Chewonki celebrated the approaching end of the school year with a four-day trip to Chewonki’s wilderness outpost on Fourth Debsconeag Lake, deep in the heart of Maine’s North Woods.
The students traveled five hours north with their teacher Kat Cassidy and Chewonki outdoor educator Eric Nathanson to get to the remote site on one of a chain of pristine lakes and ponds permanently protected in an ecological reserve. Across the lake from our little cluster of cabins, yurts, and a lodge, 800-foot-high cliffs rise from the shore, and tens of thousands of acres of conserved forest surround the site.
Highlights of the trip included a hike to the top of Blueberry Ledges; fresh drinking water from Moose Spring; Tennis Ball Tag in canoes; an epic search for a portage trail; an epic lake crossing in heavy winds and pouring rain; games in the cozy lodge; and culinary triumphs (delectable grilled cheese sandwiches, s’mores, and homemade blueberry pancakes made with from summer’s berries).
Visiting Fourth Debsconeag Lake held special meaning for Cassidy: her grandfather, Reginald Deuse, was an avid hunter and fisherman who made many trips to this part of Maine starting in the 1940s. “It was amazing to be there–my grandfather’s special place almost 80 years ago,” she says. “He went to the Debsconeag lakes for years, driving about 12 hours from Connecticut to Millinocket (there was no Interstate 95) and then flying on a small seaplane over to the lakes, where he would stay with friends for one or two weeks to fish, hike from lake to lake, and canoe.”
After the trip, Cassidy found one of her grandfather’s black-and-white photos showing the cliffs above Fourth Debsconeag Lake exactly as she photographed them herself a couple of days before. The discovery made clear that love for “being in the outdoors runs deep in my family,” she says, “and has been passed down for generations. I think of my parents and my grandparents, and ancestors I’ve never met, and feel so thankful. It’s an affirmation of my path in life.”
Thanks to conservation, future generations of outdoor enthusiasts will also be able to enjoy the beauty of this unspoiled part of Maine. Cassidy hopes her students’ end-of-the-year adventure will deepen their own passion for wilderness.
Students from the Elementary School at Chewonki recall their favorite moments from the trip:
“Probably our last canoe ride…while the water was very calm…We also did an obstacle course together in Canoe Cove, which was super fun.”
“Making ‘brownie oranges, because no one had ever made them and it was fun to experience making them.”
“A couple of evenings when a bunch of us were down on the dock and the sun was setting, and we were just all laughing and chatting.”
“Canoeing through the storm…I loved the fact that I could paddle like the Devil himself was chasing us to get through the wind.”
“The highlight of the trip was definitely canoeing across the lake with the rain pelting us and the strong wind trying to push us backward. The wind was no match for us, and we made our way across the lake in no time at all!”
“The amount of freedom we had to explore the area, and the food was really good! I also really enjoyed canoeing around the lake.”
“Every single second of the trip, though I think the main highlight was canoeing, because it seemed like we were always so happy.”