Welcome to Rangeley, the Real Maine
By Victor Block

Digging our paddles into the water, my son Tom and I steer our canoe around
a sharp turn in the river.  Suddenly, we’re face-to-face with a massive creature
standing  in our path.  

Lifting its head to stare at us, shoots of river greens cascading from its mouth,
the moose seems undisturbed.  Tom and I steady our canoe  and wait.  After
several minutes, our temporary companion finishes its meal,  casts a final, I
think somewhat disdainful, glance in our direction and slowly ambles into
the surrounding woods.

Welcome to the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine, nestled in its  isolated
western mountains.  Mention the Pine Tree State and most people picture the
craggy coastline and oceanfront towns.  And there is  much to say for all of

But for me, the “real” Maine lies elsewhere, in places like the picture book
town of Rangeley.  That village of 1,200 residents truly captures the quaint
nostalgia of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Single-story frame buildings along both sides of Main Street house the
Lakeside Theater, Moose America Antiques & Accessories,  and a smattering
of other shops and restaurants.  No stop lights interrupt the sparse flow of
traffic, much of it vehicles with a kayak or canoe strapped to the top, and
huge trucks groaning beneath loads of fresh-cut trees headed for a mill.

It doesn’t take long to understand that this area of Maine is as much a lifestyle
as a destination.  Most folks, including me all summer long,  pick up their
mail at the tiny post office, where locals gather to exchange  news and gossip
in an outpouring of “heahs,” “a-yups” and other  Maine-speak.

Visitors long have been lured by the unspoiled beauty of Maine’s Rangeley
Lakes region.  Abnaki Indians set up hunting and fishing camps along
shorelines of the area’s 111 lakes and ponds.  Names of lakes – such as
Cupsuptic, Umbagog and tongue-twisting Mooselookmeguntic –  attest to the
Indian influence.

In 1796, an Englishman named James Rangeley showed up and purchased
over 30,000 acres in the area, paying 20 cents an acre.  When a town was
incorporated on the site in 1855, it had 258 inhabitants.

It was about then that Rangeley began to gain a reputation as a fishing
Mecca for its abundance of brook trout.  Well-to-do anglers from Boston, New
York and even further away made the trek, and grand hotels  sprung up to
accommodate them.

Two railroad lines brought sportsmen to the region and steamboats  
transferred them to a half-dozen sprawling lodges along the shoreline
of Rangeley Lake.

The Depression brought an end to the gilded age in Rangeley, but not
to its appeal as a year-round getaway destination.  Rand McNally has
included the Rangeley Lakes Region on its list of “best vacation places in

Sports Afield named Rangeley in its round-up of the “50 Best Sports Towns”
in the country.  It praised outstanding flyfishing for trout and landlocked
salmon, canoeing, animal viewing and hiking.

Dozens of lakes, ponds and streams that support trout and salmon
lie within 10 miles of Rangeley.  Some of the best are reachable only by
hiking through the woods.

More serious hikers take to the forests on trails that range from difficult to
child-friendly.  One of the more challenging stretches of the  2,050-mile long
Appalachian Trail runs within 9 miles of town.  Through hikers are a frequent
sight during summer, carrying monster-size backpacks and delighting in
simple pleasures like an ice cream cone at the Pine Tree Frosty or the
opportunity to wash a load of clothes at the local laundromat.

I never hike without keeping a lookout for moose, and often am rewarded
with sightings of what must be one of God’s most unlikely creatures.  Big
bulls can weight over a half ton, and sport a rack (antlers) spanning six feet.  
When seeking a mate (“rooting”), a bull can emit a bellow easily mistaken for
the horn of a passing 18 wheel truck.

Yet beneath this foreboding exterior beats the heart of a gentle giant. Moose
eat tender shoots growing in the shallows of lakes and rivers, and vegetation
along forest trails.  This makes close encounters with those animals, whose
faces only another moose could love, prized experiences.

Visitors addicted to “moose mania” also seek out their prey during early
evening drives.  As day turns to dusk, moose venture out of the woods to
munch on greenery growing adjacent to roads.  The result is the closest thing
to a traffic jam in the Rangeley region, as cars congregate whenever and
wherever a moose is spotted enjoying its dinner.

The setting sun also brings thoughts of nighttime
activities – even though, as one local wag tells visitors,
“Night life doesn’t happen in Rangeley.”

That’s not quite true.  Granted, many people cook
dinner in  their rented cabin, called “camps” by those
in the know.  That usually means charcoaling by the
edge of a lake, or preparing fresh-caught  fish
or lobsters trucked in earlier that day from the
Maine coast.

Others dress for dinner at a restaurant.  In Rangeley,
that means a clean pair of jeans and a checked
“buffalo shirt” to ward off the pleasant chill that
arrives many summer evenings with the moon.

Entertainment also is low key.  The Lakeside Theater manages to offer first-
run films during evenings not very long after they debut elsewhere.  Then, in
keeping with the somewhat quirky ways of Rangeley, a rainbow-hued flag
hung out front on rainy days serves as a signal that a matinee will be added to
the program.

Other than the movie house, nightlife is based on a few watering holes along
Main Street, where visitors seek – unsuccessfully -- to blend in with the locals.
The spirited twang of the dialect of regulars mixes with accents of
“flatlanders” from near and far, who are drawn to the area by its magnificent
scenery, full menu of outdoor activities, and laid-back lifestyle.  

That’s the inviting combination which keeps me returning there year after

For information about Rangeley, call the Chamber of Commerce at
800-MT-LAKES (685-2537) or check out its web site at
www. rangeleymaine.com.

About the author:
Victor Block is an award-winning travel writer who lives in Washington, D.C,,
and for over 25 years has spent summers in Rangeley, Maine.  He is a member
of the Society of American Travel Writers, and the North American Travel
Journalists Association.  Victor has traveled to some 70 countries around the
world to research his stories but, he notes, for his annual non-working
vacation, he chooses to stay at his "camp" in the lakes and mountains region
of western Maine.
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Aerial view of Rangeley, Maine
Main Street in Rangeley, Maine