Author and school speaker Tim Caverly on the realities of the North Woods

What it’s really like to oversee the entire Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 2:30pm

Many outdoor people think working in the remote Maine woods is a dream job. But Tim Caverly, who was the supervisor of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway for 18 years, can tell you some stories. For example, from the first day he stepped into the role, he had a target on his back.

“When I first started the position in 1981, I’d heard rumors that people didn’t think I’d last six months,” he said.

When he started with a staff of 20, there were one or two individuals who had a grudge.

“I was told when I’d first started, one person was causing a lot of issues in the area, driving campers off their campsites, threatening them, then carving out his own campsites and cutting illegal trails,” said Caverly. “My job was to get him to stop.”

While everything he did was to ensure public safety and protect the natural resources of the Allagash Wilderness, some individuals who thought they were immune to the state’s laws began to extract revenge. One such scofflaw with a history of theft and vandalism had already targeted Caverly’s predecessor a number of times with malicious pranks, such as cutting electrical wires, adding water added to his generator, vehicle destruction and break-ins to his office, among other serious violations.

“The first six months I was appointed supervisor, things were relatively quiet,” said Caverly. “Then, I had to start clamping down on this particular individual and his antics. We started experiencing vandalism after that: rocks thrown through our picture windows, wires cut, and so on. One day in 1982, my wife and I went down to Reid State Park for a baby shower and when we came back by 11 p.m., our entire house had been burnt down to the ground. It wasn’t an accident.”

Caverly said only a few of these people made the job difficult as they had no regard for the law and wanted to use the Allagash for their own selfish purposes.

“They didn’t like to be told ‘no,’” he said.

But even those negative experiences couldn’t overshadow the positives and the joys that his 32-year career brought.

Caverly comes from a family who has spent their lives in the Maine outdoors.  He began working as a ranger at Sebago Lake State Park for the State Parks and Recreation Commission. After Sebago, he continued his employment with the Department of Conservation with assignments as a manager of Aroostook and Cobscook Bay State Parks as well as a regional supervisor of the Allagash Region; which included the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the Penobscot River Corridor.

The career move required be ready for anything all four seasons.

“On any given day, I didn’t know what to expect or where I’d be when I got up,” he said. “I might be in an airplane looking for illegal construction in the one-mile zone around the Allagash; I’d more likely be patrolling in a canoe or boat looking for violations such as folks cutting down trees on state property.  For example, I’d typically have to stop someone who thought they could fell a particularly good pine tree and sneak it across the line to sell it. Or, I might be Augusta either supporting or rejecting a bill that a legislator wanted to pass concerning the Allagash.”

Other times, he was called to assist on a search and rescue for people lost on trails or drowning victims.

“I learned to be self-reliant quite a bit,” he said. “The key is to never lose your cool; quickly appraise the situation and decide the best route.”

More 40 different laws concerning the Allagash Wilderness Waterway were proposed during his position with the state.

“Some were good bills and some weren’t,” he said.

But, he showed up for every hearing with the intent to weigh in on every single bill that would protect the legacy of the Allagash.

Now the author of nine books with the support of his wife Susan, the Caverlys have presented 234 programs to more than 8,000 students in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. In addition they have donated more 1,750 books to 145 schools in Maine, N.H. and MA.

Though the day-to-day responsibilities of the job supervising the Allagash are over, the woods and waterways are so intertwined in Caverly’s life, he will always be the famed Maine woods’ protector.

All photos courtesy Tim Caverly

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