May 28, 2024

New book a signpost to Maine’s remote public lands

WHITEFIELD – Take Deboullie – if you’re prepared. Or Scraggly Lake, or the Unknowns.

Wheeling and tromping across thousands of miles of Maine’s remotest points, Tom Hanrahan has been to those pristine patches and plenty more. While he doesn’t mind being alone, he doesn’t want all million-plus acres of Maine public lands to himself.

At the request of the state Conservation Department, Hanrahan has written a book to introduce Mainers and visitors to the wild and breathtakingly scenic preserves with which few people – Mainers included – have more than a vague familiarity.

The book “Your Maine Lands: Reflections of a Maine Guide,” published by Polar Bear & Co. of Solon, sells for $10.95.

“We want people to know about these places and to go and enjoy them,” said Hanrahan, a Princeton graduate whose resume includes New York City boxing writer and inmate advocate at Maine State Prison. “They’re public, forever. Forever is a very strong word, but these are locked up forever.”

The master Maine Guide’s book is a series of first-person reflections on chunks of the state he regards as heaven on Earth that should be enjoyed by all who appreciate the outdoors. But he also is careful to point out that they’re not places for casual day-hikers, and are full of potentially mortal hazards that can turn an unprepared sojourner’s foray into sheer hell.

The state has outright ownership of some 500,000 acres of public reserved land, plus conservation easements of nearly 1 million more acres that are protected permanently. These public lands are open to anyone to hunt, fish, hike, trap, cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowmobile or enjoy any other of myriad backcountry activities.

And, as the burly, bearded author says in his book, it costs “not a dime” to enter and stay as long as you like.

Promoting these open spaces also plays into Gov. John Baldacci’s “Take It Outside!” public-health campaign to encourage youths who spend too much time at their joysticks and in front to the TV to get outdoors, said state Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan.

“Every family in Maine has someone who needs this book,” said McGowan. “Every camp and cabin in Maine needs this book.”

Hanrahan, 53, practically lives outdoors and gets around Maine as much as anyone. During his wanderings, he’s surprised to hear how many people don’t know about the reserves of woods, mountains, coastal and lake habitats.

Take Deboullie, a 22,000-acre area of low rugged mountains and remote trout ponds in far northern Maine that’s accessible from Portage or St. Francis. The department’s Web site includes a description of that site and others, and maps that can be downloaded. One of Hanrahan’s favorites, Deboullie also has hiking trails and campsites.

He writes about hiking through Washington County’s 12,000-acre Bold Coast, with its nearly 5 miles of cliff-bound ocean shore.

“I don’t see the ocean at first, but I hear it coming through the damp pine and fir forest,” he writes.

“It’s a very special kind of hike, because very few hikes begin in deep woods and end up with a spectacular, ocean view.”

A few public reserved lands are almost urban in setting, such as the 100-acre Mackworth Island at the mouth of the Presumpscot River in southern Maine. The mile-long trail that encircles the island offers walkers stunning views of Casco Bay and Portland, says the Web site.

Lands and vistas that Hanrahan likes to say are “achingly beautiful” can have as powerful an allure to the experienced and seasoned outdoorsman as to the uninitiated, and Hanrahan wants to make sure all are prepared for their outdoor experience.

First off, the public lands for the most part are unmarked and not easy to find. A four-wheel-drive truck with a couple of spare tires is the best transportation to reach them.

Hanrahan said he has had an awful time finding some locations, such as the appropriately named Unknown Lakes in eastern Maine’s 27,000-acre Duck Lake Public Reserved Land.

“They are really hard to get to. I finally had to talk to coyote trappers” to find his way, Hanrahan recalled while relaxing in his 2-century-old farmhouse after returning from a deer hunting trip.

Those venturing onto unfamiliar public lands for the first time should “absolutely hire a guide first,” he said, noting that Maine has plenty to choose from.

McGowan said that maps on the department’s Web site are being improved. But for now, Hanrahan said, don’t think of heading off to one of the remote regions without an ample supply of topographical maps, not to mention other survival items he itemizes in his book.

“I’ve been lost badly, but I’m always prepared to spend the night,” he said. After a brief hesitation, he said he also has been lost but not prepared. Luckily, he’s still here to talk about it.

Hanrahan’s book is available in a number of Maine bookstores and may be ordered online at

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