My cabin on Stephens Road in Rangeley Plantation was pretty much finished in 1972, or at least as finished as it would ever be.  It wasn’t much of a place, sitting there on concrete blocks; but Inever intended it to be permanent. It would do just fine until I was ready to build a nice vacation home on the property. Unfortunately, I waited too long to start building that house. More on that later.
I was more interested in acquiring additional land.  I now had 300 feet of lake front, so I set about buying back lots from Shelton Noyes, with whom I became good friends.  He sold me five or six lots, going all the way from the other side of Stephens Road up to the Bemis Road. They were cheap, and he financed them at very attractive terms. Shelton Noyes was a deal maker, doing whatever he must to make sales happen. He was as sharp and shrewd as they come, but his word was his bond.  A lot of people disliked him for his aggressive developing and marketing, although I found him to be one of the most honest and straightforward real estate people with whom I have ever had the pleasure of doing business.  He was a lawyer, a judge,  a former state senator, and owned this newspaper for a few years, beginning in 1977.
In  the 1950’s, Noyes totally understood the demographic changes beginning to take place in the Rangeley region, namely that people were no longer coming here to spend the entire summer in a hotel.  Many wanted their own vacation homes.  So he formed the S.C. Noyes Co., as a real estate brokerage and development firm, while also purchasing a gigantic chunk of land with miles and miles of pristine shorefront on Mooselookmeguntic.  As the story goes, he purchased about 33,000 acres (50+ square miles!) for the sum of $66,000.  He logged it for many years to pay the mortgage and taxes, while putting every additional dollar he could find into road construction and lot surveying. He told me that those early years were very tough ones, but like the visionary he was, he saw it through to a legendary success.
The unorganized townships of rural Maine were like the “wild west” back then.  There were essentially zero restrictions on zoning, developing and building, on a state level. However, some developers- like Shelton Noyes- added some of their own zoning and building restrictions to their deeds, to protect property values from unscrupulous buyers. Some say, and I agree, that 100 feet of lake frontage was too small, but he was trying to make the lots as affordable and salable as possible. All over Maine, there were endless development and building atrocities taking place, and much pressure was put on the legislature to do something about it.  The Land Use Regulation Commission, some say aptly nicknamed “LURC,”  was about to be created.  This agency would have dictatorial control over what one could or could not do with their own property.
It is well stated that a pendulum never stops in the middle, but goes from one extreme to the other, as perfectly illustrated by this situation. Shelton saw it coming, and spent much of his time in Augusta, lobbying for more reasonable restrictions, with little success.  Where once one could, and often did, do just about anything on their property, now they would be severely restricted.  Some of the new regulations, like setbacks, driveway requirements, and soil and sewerage system standards, were sorely needed.  Others were questionable at best, and absurd at the worst.  A lot owner was now prohibited from doing anything below the high water mark. This included clearing out rocks to create safe access and a mooring spot for one’s boat, building a permanent dock or boathouse, or constructing a seawall. Septic and leaching field requirements were drastic and unalterable, often rendering a person’s lot unbuildable and pretty much worthless. If you owned or bought a heavily wooded lot, you were now severely restricted as to how many trees you could cut down to obtain a lake view.  Lawns and open space areas were also drastically limited.  Building in rural Maine had come full circle.
Shelton advised me to complete whatever I wanted to accomplish on my land prior to the inception of these new laws.    One of the biggest problems with lot frontage on most of the Rangeley Lakes was the rocky shoreline. This situation existed because the lake outflows were dammed, and the lakes flooded to vastly increase the volume of water they held. The water was used to power the many mills downstream, and levels were dropped by the damkeepers as necessary in dry periods to provide adequate flow.  This is true to this day, albeit with more restriction.  Raising the lake levels also pushed back the shorelines, often hundreds of feet from the original lakeside.  Over decades, the action of the lakes would wash away the soil, leaving the rocks, large and small, behind.
So it was with my 300 feet of Mooselookmeguntic lakefront.   Big rocks were everywhere, making it careful business to land a Rangeley Boat or canoe without banging it up.  By the end of each summer, the lake level began to drop.  Depending on the year, the lake could recede quite a ways by October, and it was ugly. So many rocks that it looked like the surface of the moon, and it was really hard to navigate around them in the shallower water.  Still, LURC had not yet taken control, so there were things that could be legally done about it.  I talked about the situation with George “Tubby” Washington, a well respected excavator in town.  He proposed to clear the beach with his big bulldozer, pushing the rocks to create jetties at each end of my frontage. Tubby said he would wait as long as he could in November, so the maximum area could be cleared. He actually did the job just before Thanksgiving, working through snow and a cold snap. When I came up to pay him, I could make out the jetties he had created, but everything was covered in snow.
When I arrived for Memorial Day weekend the following May, I couldn’t believe what a terrific job he had done!  The lake action had scoured the sand from the whole bulldozed area, depositing it along the high water mark.  It looked like an ocean beach, which became even more evident later in the summer, as the water receded.  To this day, I fail to see how any ecological damage had been done. After all, we had cleared rocks from a man made extension of the original shoreline, which we did not approach, and left untouched.   LURC was now the law, and it had other ideas about what could be done below the high water mark; i.e.,  nothing.  Like something out of Orwell’s 1984, they flew planes along the shorelines to film them.  Even if one wanted to hand clear a little swimming area for the kids, or a spot for the boat, it was prohibited, and carried hefty fines if one was caught. Some thought that paying the fines was worth it to gain a little open area, so LURC soon added restitution to the fines.  If you thinned any trees beyond their onerous cutting formula, you would pay the fine AND plant new trees.   So much for the concept of “private” property, as I would soon find out.


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