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Living la Vida Belgrade

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Sustaining a Community. How Preserving the Belgrade Lakes Goes Beyond the Water. Kathy Lipshultz. Nurturing Talent: How the Lakes. Save the Lakes and Keep ‘ em Coming Back.

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Sustaining a Community

How Preserving the Belgrade Lakes Goes Beyond the Water

Kathy Lipshultz

Nurturing Talent: How the Lakes

Save the Lakes and Keep ‘em Coming Back

The communities surrounding the Belgrade Lakes were built around the water. For generations, families have created memories on the water, spending years boating, fishing, and swimming. Businesses have continued to succeed even with a struggling economy, remaining open year after year because of the summer tourism. Painters, playwrights, and renowned writers have all found a quaint retreat on the Belgrade lakes. However, the lakes currently face severe environmental threats that could jeopardize many recreational opportunities.

The lakes suffer from increasing water pollution and a growing infestation of non-native plants. Invasive milfoil currently occupies three tributaries of Great Pond, and nearly half of the water body is at high risk. Phosphates from fertilizers continue to leech into the water with little or no buffer zones to block them, risking creating algal blooms that suck oxygen from the water. If the plants spread and the fish die, the ecosystem of the Belgrade lakes will be destroyed.

The people of the Belgrade lakes depend on the water; however, some still fail to realize the extent of its importance. As water quality declines, recreational opportunities disappear, and the surrounding community suffers. Protecting the Belgrade lakes not only preserves a wildlife habitat, but also guarantees the economic stability of hundreds of people, inspiration for artists from across New England, and a way of life for generations to come. In short, preserving the Belgrade Lakes goes far beyond the water.

Influence the Arts

According to the locals, the population in the Belgrade Lakes region doubles every summer when tourists and out-of-staters drive up to spend vacation time in their camps on the water. They buy trinkets for back home, eat out at the restaurants in town, and pick up water paraphernalia for immediate use. In doing so, they support

Since the region’s settlement, people have been drawn to the lakes because of their serenity and the opportunities they accord. In turn, whether directly or indirectly, the lakes have influenced the people who gather, creating a community with a rich artistic culture that remains to this day.

A happy local fisherman in front of Day’s Store in downtown Belgrade Lakes.

Painting by Belgrade Lakes Artist, Rhonda Barnes

the economy of the region, functioning as a major source of revenue. As much as natives might not like to admit it, the people “from away” are a vital part in keeping the Belgrade Lakes alive.

Living la Vida Belgrade



“Belgrade Lakes has been a mainstay for probably 10 years. I discovered the area when I was a Colby student… I would join [my friend] Steve for various outdoor adventures. He took me snowshoeing. It was the middle of January on Mt. Phillip under full moon. It was incredible. You could see all of Great Pond and the surrounding hills and I became enchanted by

2011 Employment in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

The lakes provide a meeting area for family get-togethers, a quiet escape for kayaking in the morning, and an opportunity to experience the serenity of the natural world… A perfect place to build lasting memories. For many, the Belgrade Lakes region is home, even to those who only pay an annual visit.

AT RIGHT: The table shows the distribution in employment in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed. The sector with the largest number of employers was the Construction industry, while Accommodation and Food Services had the greatest amount of employees. Both of these, along with Administrative Services; Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation; Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate; Manufacturing; Professional Services; Retail Trade; Transportation and

that area… When I got into painting, I said, ‘I’ve gotta go back…’ Being able to spend a day with my easel set up is really thrilling. Visually, the qualities of the Belgrade Lakes is beautiful - wide stretches of water with low hills and great big skies above. I could go back and I’d always find something new to see.” –Matthew Russ, Landscape Artist (see his painting entitled “View from Blueberry Hill” on left)

“We had a good week at the camp. The bass were biting well and the sun shone endlessly, day after day. We would be tired at night and lie down in the accumulated heat of the little bedrooms after the long hot day and the breeze would stir almost imperceptibly outside and the smell of the swamp would drift in through the rusty screens. Sleep would come easily and in the morning the red squirrel would be on the roof, tapping out his gay routine. I kept remembering everything, lying in bed in the mornings – the small steamboat that had a long rounded stern like the lip of a Ubangi, and how quietly she ran on the moonlight sails, when the older boys played their mandolins and the girls sang and we ate doughnuts dipped in sugar and how sweet the music was on the water in the shining night.” –E.B. White, excerpt from his essay “Once More to the Lake”

“Belgrade Lakes… I always carry that small town in my heart. And now I am telling my children and grandchildren about it. Our camps were up on the hill on the left as you would head toward Skowhegan… Each cabin had its own row boat with an outboard motor. We were almost always filled with fisher folk and most came back year after year… Dave and Dot Lenk [of the Lenk Art Center] stayed in one of our cabins… Dave bought a CrisCraft and would take my mother and uncle and me out for very speedy rides on Great Pond. As a middle schooler, I loved it. And after the boat ride, Dave would grill fabulous steaks and what a feast we would have!” –Karin Reath, past resident of the Belgrade Lakes

“We fish until we can't, we wait till the very last minute to get the boat out and docks out of the water, then we wait for the ice so we can play pond hockey.” -Jodie Mosher-Towle, Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance board member

“[The Belgrade Lakes Region] has retained its sense of place – when you’re here, you KNOW you’re here. Nature is a very big part. You can’t avoid the woods and the lakes and nature is bigger than the humans here. You don’t feel that in places that are more urban or “built up.” You couldn’t get suburbia here if you tried. There are no cookie cutter developments, manicured lawns… Although, there are a lot of lawn mowers going all the time! -Maureen Miliken, author of Cold Hard News and Belgrade Lakes resident

“Anyone who drives to my house steps out and says, ‘Wow, I can see why you bother driving six hours.’” -Jeffrey Spring of Spring Gallery

“If you live here year-round, you’re more in rhythm with nature. And living on a farm, fall is important, beautiful, and busy... When winter comes the land is resting and renewing itself, while at the same time you’re able to snowshoe and cross-country ski. Winter is hard... Spring you can feel the difference. And summertime is just summertime.” -Kathi Wall, Maine Lakes Resource Center Executive Director

“My mother always hosted the annual cookout at our house in Smithfield for the [women’s Hockey] team, and they would often take to skinny dipping in the cool North Pond waters!.” –Tim Downing, President of Duratherm

“My kids would cry when they had to go back to Waterville in the fall. They made friends among the natives. We had a 15 foot aluminum boat that I taught them to use properly. They’d go over to the rope swing and knew all the nooks and crannies in this lake, all the little coves and the island. They’d spend overnights camping out and live in tents on the island.” -Earl Smith, author ofThe Dam Committee and past Dean at Colby College

My son was a city person and hadn’t spent a good deal of time at a lakeside camp. Once we got there, there was some tension. But, over a period of hours, he melted and relaxed. He got in the water, floated away, and said, “How come you’ve never brought me here [before]?” -Susan McPherran, Gallery Director at Spring Gallery

“Summer is best and busiest, but at a different pace and with different players. Fall is somewhat depressing as we wonder if we did all we could possibly squeeze in... Winter we drive by occasionally or force ourselves on the place, and Spring is spent wishing away time so we can once again get back to camp. – Rick Watson, North Pond Association President

“There was a summer when I lived in Hillside [dorms at Colby] that one of my friends was the caretaker of the Outing Cabin on Great Pond. The fact that he was out there made it easy for a group of friends and go out there at least once a week and go swimming at night. Usual college kid night swimming. Clothing optional.” –Matthew Russ, Landscape Artist in the Belgrades

“All my works are influenced by having lived near Castle Island Camps by Elizabeth Arden’s past estate. I rented a little roof piece there and started to paint. My sister had a camp on Long Pond. We would walk through Belgrade Lakes and kayak. We have thousands of pictures of things on Belgrade Lakes. If you go to my website, everything that’s natural was influenced by living there.All I could do was walk in the woods - couldn’t listen to music or watch T.V. with my head injury. I got up with the sun, went to bed with the sun... Now, Belgrade Lakes is the staple of my business that keeps it afloat. I get calls from camp owners who want pen and ink of their camps… I had a woman purchase an original watercolor of the bridge that connects Great pond and Long pond… I’ve done Day’s Store, Sunset Grill, Lazy Lab Café… everything in the area. I always go back to the lakes.” –Donna Asmussen, Multi-Medium Landscape Artist


Jeffrey Spring, Sculptor and Owner of Spring Gallery; Catherine Burgess, Landscape Painter; Rhonda Barnes, Maine Scenery and House Sign Artist; CJ Stevens, Photographer; Alex Wall, Photographer.

Source: Maine Department of Labor and the 2012 Statistical Abstract of the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

Warehousing; and Wholesale Trade depend on tourism to the point that the businesses in that industry would fail without it. Should these businesses decline because tourism subsides, hundreds of people would lose their jobs.


“Having had a business in Maine, I’ve heard some shopkeepers say that summer and Christmas are the times when you make more than 50% of your income – because that’s when people are here. Without the lakes, people wouldn’t come during those times, shops would close, and it would impact the artists. It’s a lot of legwork to get art into shops. Most artists don’t use computers or make their own prints, and if they don’t have shops to put their works in, then all they have are the summer shows here.” –Donna Asmussen, Belgrade Lakes Multi-Medium Artist

“It would be devastating. It would ruin… [trails off] It would be no different than the rather small sad inland towns away from the water. The water drives everything… Thousands of people worked along the water – that’s how the community was built. It really has an economic impact. If you can be on a clean body of water, you’re going to pay more money. I wouldn’t care to have a place on East Pond – big algae blooms, milfoil. The businesses would close up, wouldn’t they? There would be a gas station and a Laundromat… There wouldn’t be the incentive for coming here. People even make a living fixing the lake houses. Electricians gotta do a renovation on ‘em… There just wouldn’t be any commerce. Day’s Store, Christy’s, Sunset Grill rely on people passing through. The locals don’t do their weekly shopping at Day’s – it’s expensive. We might get a milk and a newspaper. It would be awful if the lakes failed.” –Earl Smith, author of The Dam Committee



THE SEVEN LAKES FESTIVAL: 2013 marked the first ever Seven Lakes Festival, an event designed to promote conservation through the artsin the Belgrade Lakes. Held at the Maine Lakes Resource Center, the festival featured musicians from around Maine – some of whom were from the Belgrade Lakes region. Two local folk groups, the Gawler Family and the Sandy River Ramblers sang about Belgrade living. One of the Gawlers even took to the stage in a water bottle tutu, using ballet and theatre to evoke the importance of water to sustaining life. The festival will be an annual occurrence.

The GawlerFamily, a folk band

Le Professeur, a guitarist and singer

Sandy River Ramblers, a string band

The Old Crow Indian Band, an older group that plays marching tunes

The Loons, an a cappella singing group

Maranacook String Band

“I was reading “Summertime in the Belgrades.” Just look at all the ads or businesses that are somehow related to the Belgrade Lakes. Patios, boats, boat storage, theatre, coffeehouse… Every single one of these places relies on people coming in. Without the tourists income, these places would struggle.” –Matthew Russ, Landscape Artist in the Belgrade Lakes

“Everything here has to do with the lakes. The summer people wouldn’t


Eugene O’Neill spent the summer of 1926 at the town Belgrade Lakes, where he created his

“The Dam Committee was certainly influenced by the Belgrade Lakes. When I lived in Waterville, I had a camp at the lake and have been there 25 years as a permanent resident. So, of course, when you write you’re inspired by where you live and the people you know… The characters are all bits and pieces of people from around here… The town in my novel is a lot like Belgrade.” –Earl Smith, author of The Dam Committee

come anymore [if the lakes were unusable], and they’re half the town’s population… It would destroy the economy. It would kill the area. It would just become another place to live. Most of the stores in the village are gift shops. There are no places to buy a screwdriver or buy a cup of coffee (aside from Day’s) or sit at a table and use wifi. We have a vibrant little village, but it’s almost solely geared toward tourism, not toward the people who live here.” –Maureen Miliken, Belgrade author of Cold Hard News

“Without tourism, the Belgrade Lakes would become a commuter community rather than a “resort” community. It would be like the mill towns. Their main industry disappeared, and they had to find a way to convert. The lakes are an industry. Wilton, Maine had a huge shoe factory and that was the town’s identity. It’s now a commuter town that’s a bedroom community. They’ve had to completely re-identify themselves. “ –Susan McPherran, Gallery Director at Spring Gallery

Pulitzer Prize play Strange Inter-

lude (see above).

“I think that my mystery novel just didn’t have the flavor it has now [before I lived in the Belgrade Lakes]… The novel is set north of here, and just moving here saturated me - there are lot of little details and philosophical things. I thought the novel was done… Then it took me months and months to do the revision. Books have a “big about,” not just the plot. The setting has a lot with how you say things and the tone of the book.” –Maureen Miliken, author of Cold Hard News

Belgrade Lakes was an annual summer destination for Ernest Thompson, whose visits to Great Pond inspired his 1979 play On Golden Pond, which was made into an Academy Award–winning movie in 1981.

E.B. White wrote “Once More to the Lake,” an essay published in 1941 about life at Bear Spring Camps on Great Pond (see middle panel).

Erskine Caldwalllived in Mount Vernon in the 1930’s, when he wrote much of "God's Little Acre" and "Tobacco Road," along with his most famous short story, "The Mating of Marjorie.”


"Belgrade Lakes Maine Where Eugene O'Neill and Ernest Thompson (Author of On Golden Pond) Were Inspired: Knowledge Base." Belgrade Lakes Maine Where Eugene O'Neill and Ernest Thompson (Author of On Golden Pond) Were Inspired .: Knowledge Base. Knowledge Base, 2013. Web. 15 July 2013.

"Erskine Caldwell." Erskine Caldwall. Vienna Historical Society, 2013. Web. 10 July 2013.


This research was funded by NSF EPSCoR Grant #EPS-0904155