Of all of Maine’s many special outdoor places, few sparkle with the intensity of the fabled Rangeley area. Names tell the story and anchor the outdoor sporting legacy that is synonymous with the Rangeley region. There are the legendary waters whose names still resonate today with a certain outdoor mystique: Aziscohos, Mooselookmeguntic, Cupsuptic, Richardson, Kennebago, and Rangeley Lake. And there are the names of people, the outdoor legends who fished and guided on these waters and gave life and flowing character to the heritage: Carrie Stevens, Herb Welch, Flyrod Crosby and Ed Grant.

Yes, the Rangeley region has a rich outdoor sporting history that dates back to the mid 1800s. Another name that stands out is Oquossoc, a small village not far from Rangeley in the western mountains that is the heart of Maine’s fishing and hunting heritage. Once, during the halcyon days of narrow gauge trains and horse-drawn buckboards, well-heeled sports from big cities to the south, arrived in Oquossoc for their fishing or hunting vacations. Today, a century or more later, a large log building stands on the site where the old narrow gauge railroad depot was located. The building is the new museum in which Rangeley’s rich outdoor sporting history will be forever preserved. Called Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, the large log structure is just about completed and is expected to be open for business by mid-August.

Conceptualized by longtime Rangeley resident and sportsman Don Palmer and other area leaders, the $700,000 structure has been underwritten by donations from a variety of sources. Palmer, who is also president of the Rangeley Region Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, gave my wife and me a tour of the museum. Palmer, who obviously has invested much of his time shepherding this wonderful 6-year museum project to fruition, told us that, before the museum is completed, the overall investment, including value of donations for exhibits, will be close to $1 million.

As Palmer led us through the museum and explained in detail the various rooms and how each room was represented a piece of the Rangeley sporting legacy, it was easy to understand his sense of accomplishment. Palmer and his wife Stephanie, members of the Rangeley Historical Association, no doubt identify with other concerned “citizen historians” who are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel in the name of historical preservation. When you enter the museum you first visit the Welcoming Center. Talk about unique! This room is a reconstructed 1890 Rangeley sporting camp, complete with weathered logs, birch bark ceiling and period furniture. From there you enter the Discovery Room that provides a historical timeline of the Rangeley area that dates back to the time of the Native Americans. Other rooms include the Herb Welch room, named for the area’s notable artist and taxidermist. In the Transportation Room there is “the boat that built Rangeley,” the double-ender rowboat. Of this famous vessel, writer Stephen Cole wrote “the namesake boat remains a true icon.” There are other areas of the museum that pay historical homage to the Lower Dam and Kennebago Lake, both fabled fishing areas.

The museum will include a show-cased exhibit of the largest collection of Carrie Stevens streamer flies in the world. Stevens, an ardent local angler who lived in a cottage at Upper Dam, designed the popular Gray Ghost streamer fly and created many others. Included among the museum’s collection of various fish mounts is an 11- pound brook trout caught at Upper Dam in the 1890s! Well-known contemporary fish artist and taxidermist Dave Footer will also be displaying work in the museum. There will also be displays of flies tied by other highly respected Maine fly tyers, including Dick Frost. Hunting and trapping equipment from earlier times will also be prominently displayed.

As we finished up our museum tour with Don Palmer, the last room we visited was called the Future’s Room. He explained that this room will be available for various displays from partnering organizations that are helping to preserve the vital resources that make our sporting heritage possible. “Our hope is that visitors will better understand the historical context of our Rangeley area sporting legacy and help us all safeguard its future,” said Palmer.

Yes, indeed. This outdoor sporting museum will be a remarkable resource that will long remind sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike of a significant Maine era. Didn’t some sage reflect that “you have to know where you’ve been before you really know where you are going?” The entire state of Maine’s fishing and hunting heritage is worthy of our pride and preservation. We can thank Don Palmer, his wife Stephanie, the Rangeley Historical Society, as well as all of those other contributors who gave generously of their time and money, for this important accomplishment.

As Palmer explained, the museum is still on the lookout for other important Maine hunting, fishing or trapping artifacts or memorabilia.If you have an interest in making a donation, whether cash or exhibit pieces, contact Don Palmer at 207 864 5647 or email him at: [email protected],

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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