Pete Davis walks away from his boat July 28 in the area he once parked his float plane. He says he can no longer maneuver it through the maze of boats anchored in front of the Androscoggin Yacht Club across the way on Androscoggin Lake in Wayne. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

WAYNE — As Peter Davis sat beneath some pine trees beside Androscoggin Lake last week, a loon bobbed nearby in a light swell created by a distant motor boat.

Beyond lay an island that once housed a summer camp, while closer at hand some laughing youngsters in a canoe paddled along the sun-danced surface of the water.

All in all, the scene carried with it a sense of tranquility that has long made Maine a vacation haven.

But as ever more people find their way to these serene shores, the more than 2,600 great ponds and magnificent lakes that dot the state’s landscape are experiencing some growing pains that are increasingly complicating the lives of those who enjoy them.

It’s not a major problem. Except for scattered individuals, it may not even qualify as a minor one yet. But something is afoot that’s worth noticing.

Consider, for example, the Androscoggin Yacht Club at the end of Lake Street in Wayne, a lovely little place finished in 1912 that’s so integral to the region’s past that it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s not a fancy operation. It never was.

It’s a low-cost private club that caters to the community, offering a social venue, a tiny beach, a little dock, sailing and swimming lessons, and a rowboat for members to reach their own boats moored in the cove that the place overlooks.

For generations, it’s been a key element of life in Wayne.

What has changed, though, is that more people than ever are mooring boats there, creating one of those iconic Maine scenes with a tiny, colorful flotilla lashed to buoys anchored to the bottom.

As recently as the late 1980s, the club had perhaps a dozen boats bobbing in front each summer, Davis said. Now there are as many as 50 filling much of the cove, leaving access to Davis’ property problematic.

While neighbors, the town and the state search for a solution to the problem growth has spurred, the situation in the little sheltered cove has grown, to put it charitably, complicated.

“It’s chaos,” said Aaron Chrostowsky, the town manager. “Right now, it’s complete confusion.”

That might not matter except that Davis insists that state law requires the maintenance of a clear channel through the area as well as mandating that boats can’t be moored more than 200 feet from shore or beyond one-third of the way to an opposite shore, whichever is shorter.

In practical terms, if his interpretation is correct, that means a lot of boats are moored where they are not allowed.

Enforcing the law matters to Davis because he owns 1,800 feet of shoreline opposite the club and wants to preserve the possibility of mooring a seaplane on his side of the cove one of these days.

While it appears the mooring squabble on Androscoggin Lake is unique, other fights on other lakes have flared over everything from floating overnight camps to whether Jet Skis ought to be allowed to drown out loon calls.

In short, the range of issues that seem to be cropping up as the lakes get busier is ever wider and increasingly acute.

Houseboats featured on the website for Just Add Water Floating Camps, which are no longer available for overnight stays on Rangeley Lake.

FLOATING CAMPS IN RANGELEY

In Oquossoc, Rheanna Sinnett wanted to build some tiny houses that could be rented out to tourists, but the town told her they weren’t allowed. She gave up on the plan.

Then, in 2017, she ran across an online advertisement for a 1950s-era houseboat in Baltimore that needed some tender, loving care.

“I kind of fell in love with it,” Sinnett said, because of its beauty and the minimalist living it inherently embodied.

She renovated it, got a second one, and created a new business called Just Add Water Floating Camps, offering tourists the chance to spend nights out on the water at Rangeley Lake.

For two years, the business prospered, the owner said, with the floating camps booked 85% of the time at prices that topped $200-a-night.

This year, with a pandemic raging, Sinnett said people “were just salivating at this opportunity” to get out on the lake, away from others, safe in a lovely locale far from the public health threat obsessing the country.

What she didn’t count on was the town’s decision on July 2 to issue a cease-and-desist order to keep her from launching the boats from her lakeside property after deciding the business put her outside the allowable uses under Rangeley’s property regulations.

Town officials said use of the boats did not fit with the shoreline residential business rules governing the property. Instead, they said, she needed to qualify as a commercial facility, in part because of questions about handling the septic issues created by the boats.

Sinnett said some people who have camps along the lake complained that the boats upset their enjoyment of the lake, mostly because they feared others would follow in her wake and might become floating, noisy, bothersome parties on the water.

Shut off from her own property by the lake, Sinnett sought alternatively to launch the boats from town facilities, she said, but officials clamped down on that as well even though she believes the state-supported launches can’t pick and choose among users.

Despite her skepticism about the order, Sinnett obeyed it. Her boats are sitting empty now, with bookings closed off. Fighting the town would take too much time, money and effort, Sinnett said.

“Local municipalities have an incredible amount of power,” she said.

Sinnett said she’s considering taking her “very lucrative, successful business” somewhere else, perhaps away from Maine entirely to somewhere she can operate without so much hassle.

The bottom line, Sinnett said, is that there is a “Chicken Little mindset” among longtime lake denizens that any change might destroy a place they love.

“It’s not their lake. It’s everyone’s lake,” she said. “Their expectation is mind-blowing.”

Sinnett asked those who opposed her, “Who the hell are you to say other people can’t come and enjoy the lake, too?”

‘A MASSIVE MOSQUITO’

A personal watercraft pulls a waterskier across Bear Pond in Turner on Tuesday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Her question is at the root of a more common problem.

One of the issues that arises as more and more people venture to Maine with money to burn and a determination to have fun is that personal watercraft, most commonly Jet Skis, are ever more frequently seen, or at least heard.

Not everybody is happy about that.

On 33 of Maine’s lakes, these sorts of water scooters are banned in whole or part by state law.

In the last legislative session, officials considered whether to add Lower and Upper Wilson Pond to the prohibited areas.

Kay Johnson, president of the Friends of Wilson Pond, told lawmakers her group had surveyed its 270 members and found a clear consensus to rid the pond of the vehicles.

“The Wilson Ponds have long been known to locals, property owners, guests and visitors as a beautiful, scenic, peaceful and serene place to fish, kayak, canoe and recreate,” she said, and the watercraft undermine all of it.

They pose a threat to swimmers, boaters and waterfowl, said Johnson, who lives in Greenville.

“Designed for speed, jumping wakes, quick rapid turns,” she said, “they present a unique concern due to their lack of maneuverability.”

“They are also unique for the relatively high-pitch engines and irregular beat sounds made when leaving the water and whomp upon re-entering. This makes their noise more offensive and apparent,” Johnson said.

Seasonal resident Laura Wood, who’s been coming to Greenville for decades, told legislators that “if someone wants a thrill ride, there are many better alternatives.”

“Wilson Pond is a quiet place. We need quiet places. I work with technology every day, but when l come to Wilson Pond, I am quick to drop my smartphone and unplug,” she said.

Comparing a Jet Ski to “a massive mosquito,” she urged lawmakers to preserve her quiet place.

Hilary Worthen, a doctor who vacations on the lake, said they make him feel “like some giant horsefly is buzzing around my head. Why? Am I just an irritable old grouch unable to let folks have their fun?”

Worthen said there is plenty of scientific research to show he’s not just a grouch, that there’s something innately bothersome about a shifting, loud noise that awakens a deep-seated sense of danger.

Greenville resident Darryl R. Coffin Sr. disagreed on the need for a ban.

He said personal watercraft owners “are respectful, upstanding individuals that just want to enjoy the pond just as much as the people taking photographs” of its beauty.

“My motto has been live and let live,” Coffin told legislators.

The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee opted not to take any action on the request for a ban, but nobody thinks there won’t be more in the same vein in the years to come.

The stark reality is that as more people come to Maine’s many lakes, more conflicts are inevitable.

MAINE’S GREAT PONDS

Since colonial days, natural lakes of 10 acres or more have belonged to the people, even if they are surrounded entirely by private property, and the law guarantees access to the water over unimproved land even if it’s posted against trespassers.

A 19th-century Maine court, weighing an issue involving who could cut ice from state lakes and rivers in a time before refrigeration, declared the public’s ownership meant people had “the rights of fishing, bathing and boating therein, and of taking ice.”

Even so, the steady growth around Maine’s lakes — especially smaller ones not too far from urban areas — has made it more difficult to share the experience.

With every passing year, there are fewer places for everyday Mainers to take a dip or put a canoe in the water.

Still, there is no doubt in the law that lakes and ponds, including ones created by dams if they’re more than 30 acres in size, are public property, not privately held.

What that means is that property owners along the shore don’t control what happens on the water.

An aerial view of Androscoggin Lake in Wayne on July 27 where the Androscoggin Yacht Club, right, has choked the cove from access for his float plane, according to Pete Davis, who owns the property across the cove. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

MOORINGS IN THE COVE

While property owners can’t set rules for public waterways, government can.

In Wayne, yacht club attorney Walter McKee said, people have been mooring boats in the Mill Stream cove out front for more than a century. It had never been a problem until Davis began complaining.

“Yeah, I’ve been annoying,” Davis said, recounting how he has pestered officials to help without success.

Davis, whose grandfather served as commodore of the club for half a century, said he began raising questions about the moorings because the problem “got worse and worse over time” and eventually reached the point where all the bobbing boats blocked access to all of the sheltered shoreline he owns.

“It’s just grown so much,” Davis said. “I just feel like I’m being bullied.”

Having 50 boats “pushed up against your shore” is “an awful lot,” he said.

Chrostowsky, the town manager, said Wayne has been trying to deal with the issue for six years, commissioning a study of the area and working on a plan “to help create a channel through there.”

McKee said the club believes it “fully and completely addressed the problem” by working with the town to come up with a local ordinance that clarifies what’s allowed and what isn’t.

Chrostowsky said the town ordinance, which isn’t as strict as the state regulations, ensures a channel and offers officials “a little bit of enforcement power” to make sure everyone obeys the rules.

Once the local law was in place, he said, the town put new channel marks in the cove to mark clearly the portion where moorings could not be placed.

He said, though, that state wardens came in and “moved our channel markers” because they believed state law took precedence over Wayne’s ordinance.

Chrostowsky said Wayne takes the position that home rule provisions in state law allows it to make its own regulations.

State Sen. Shenna Bellows, a Manchester Democrat who attended a meeting of officials interested in resolving the problem recently, said the crux of the matter is whether state or local law should prevail.

She said the Attorney General’s Office is looking into it. McKee said perhaps the attorney general “can shed some guidance.”

Davis said there is already a solution handy: follow the state law.

Lt. Adam Gormley of the Maine Warden Service said he would like to see the issue dealt with. The law is pretty straightforward, he said.

Whatever the outcome, McKee said, there will be moorings in the cove, as always.

The best way to resolve it would be for everyone to work together to find a solution, McKee said.

Expressing disappointment that Davis has not been involved in the discussions, McKee said that “perhaps if we had all just sat down and talked” a way forward may have emerged that would have left everyone satisfied.

“It’s an unnecessary fight,” Davis said. “I just don’t understand why it’s gotten where it is.”

Pete Davis launches his boat from his family property in Wayne on Androscoggin Lake last month. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


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