LINCOLN PLANTATION — A few summers ago, firefighters from Wilsons Mills were scouring the back roads for a motorcycle accident but, cut off from the rest of the world by the mountains that lend the area its rugged beauty, were unable to locate the wreck.

It was just one of the many trade-offs required to live in Oxford County’s northernmost populated town. 

The driver, who was not seriously injured, was rescued by an ambulance sent from Rangeley, half an hour away. Later, during a major fire in Rangeley last fall, dispatchers were again unable to contact firefighters because malfunctioning radio equipment prevented them from ever hearing the calls for help. 

The worrisome moment proved a catalyst for Geff Inman, Deputy Director of the Regional Communication Center, who became determined to connect the tiny village to Paris, an hour and a half drive south.

In Wilsons Mills (population 43), the sole village in the administrative unit of Lincoln Plantation an hour’s drive north of the nearest Wal-Mart, a precarious existence plays out, one that up until last week went untroubled by modern communication. 

The problem is a product of geography: Paris could talk to Wilsons Mills, but with Aziscohos Mountain looming over head, Wilson Mills couldn’t talk back. If, for instance, firefighters wanted to confirm a fire was out or needed to request additional aid, Jack Sloan, fire chief, had to hurry down to his home and pick up the telephone. 

“We had to do something about it,” Sloan said. 

Location reinforces the town’s isolation. Although a part of Oxford County, Wilsons Mills is 50 miles north of Paris, an 80 mile car trek as it’s accessible only after leaving the state and careening through 17 miles of New Hampshire foothills, or taking the longer route north of Rumford through highlands of Franklin County.

On a visit last week, assessor Les Flanders and residents hinted at a social compact born of an individualistic lifestyle consisting of snowy roads, little external commerce and no cellphone reception.

Signs reading “bump” posted seasonally in other places to indicate frost heaves have an aura of permanency here. Four-wheel drive is intoned like water in a desert, as the Sun Journal discovered when the Volvo its reporter took down a seasonal road covered in icy snow became stuck and had to be hauled out by the interviewee.  

Incurring upon this woodman’s utopia, last summer FairPoint Communications installed a digital subscriber line, the same technology that became ubiquitous throughout the state in the late 1990s with the spread of high speed internet. A FairPoint sign on the edge of town urges residents to subscribe.

The line enabled dispatchers to transmit and convert radio signals over the Internet, which are then relayed from a transmitter to hand-held units. 

When the call “Wilson’s Mills, this is Paris, over,” came up over the speakers, Inman, Flanders and Sloan started clapping. 

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful area, but it’s remote,” Inman said.

The town boasts a central office open once a week, a church, a seasonal restaurant that sells bait to the regular anglers who come from afar to fish the mountain-cold streams, a main road and a third of Aziscohos Lake — called “the river” by locals though its been over 100 years since the dam flooded part of the valley — with seasonal camps that could be owned by Mainers but might as well be by out-of-staters. Everything else is owned by the paper mills or corporations hoping to sell the wood to them.

Despite the change, Flanders, who moved here seven years ago after selling the electric company he founded in Norway, said change might not come fast enough.

Most people moved here after lives elsewhere, he said.

“That’s the trade-off for living here,”  he said.

He said there are 34 registered voters and “one kid,” who attends school a 45-minute bus ride away in Rangeley. 

Every year at town meeting, residents approve raising funds — about one tenth of their overall budget, or $10,500 — to buy grain to feed a mostly roving herd of 350 deer through the winter.

At 40, Flanders said his herd is the smallest. But many are so used to his presence that during set meal hours they’ll follow him around his yard within arms length, eagerly waiting food.

According to Flanders, the practice dates back at least 60 years and has shown not to be harmful.

“We don’t want it to change; we don’t want it to be another Rangeley,” he said.

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