The Coldest Place on Earth
February 14, 2010 -
PITTSTON ACADEMY GRANT — On any given Saturday at Pittston Farm, 500 snowmobilers will come rolling in for lunch and go humming off toward the Canadian border to the west, North East Carry to the east or Greenville to the south.
But don't be fooled. This farm is as remote as it is wild.
Riders come to this old-time outpost north of Moosehead Lake in search of perfect snow and the rugged scenes of pine forests that have been logged for centuries. And many stop at Pittston Farm, which is nestled among the lakes, rivers and logging heritage.
In the summer, this part of Maine's forestland becomes a fishing haven and campers' dream. But in the winter, it grows more wild and isolated. The elements make it so.
In the woods north of Greenville, it's a challenge just to walk across a logging road caked by ice. The coyote and deer tracks to the side tell a different tale of hardship. But in truth, there are many stories of survival here.
"A lot of people stay in their homes, and for them the winter is difficult. They wonder, what can I do?" said Mark Tanner, a minister in Skowhegan who recently came to Pittston Farm with five friends. "To survive the winter for us, it's not just about staying indoors. We come here.
"It's the mental health. It's the camaraderie. It's looking for something to share with people."
It's a land of deer yards and deer feeding, coyote tracks, snowmobile trails and bruins you meet in the morning. (Like the full-body bear mounts at Pittston Farm that can spook a guest looking for the showers in the morning).
Historic Pittston Farm is a year-round outdoor destination, but in winter, without question, it becomes more a wild, throw-back adventure.
A century ago, this farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, served as one of five that hosted the leaders of the forestry industry.
The original farm was built by the Great Northern Paper Co. in 1914 and included two large houses to accommodate guests. It also had three barns, a vegetable house, a slaughterhouse, a carriage house and several other small buildings.
It served Great Northern Paper's logging operations as a working farm until 1948. While food was grown for the loggers, deals were done in the main lodge by businessmen who traveled from cities beyond Maine.
But by 1972, the log drives had ended, and Great Northern began completely dismantling its farms. Pittston Farm fell into disrepair.
But then, in 1996, it was sold and converted to a guest house. Today, the farm complex owned by Jenny and Bob Mills remains a living history experience that teaches visitors about life in a remote land.
During the day, the dining room buzzes with hungry sledders, and even may explode with their singing. But at night, the howling wind is all that's heard – save for the French chatter of Canadian loggers who've crossed the border for work.
Farm manager Guy Mills, son of owners Jenny and Bob, calls it the "coldest place on Earth."
But that's good for sledding.
HUNDREDS OF MILES OF TRAIL
From Pittston Farm's bright green-and-white painted porch, a snowmobiler has the choice of the Canadian border 50 miles to the north or the outpost at North East Carry 25 miles to the east.
Most don't care, so long as they're riding solid, wide trails through the woods. And most days, they are.
"We come here 'cause we're nuts. And the trails are great," said Richard Stewart of Oxford. "One guy found a (shed deer) antler that was still warm. It was still bleeding."
Michael Grenier of Mansfield, Conn., comes every year to sled with Stewart, who he met in Jackman near his timeshare.
They both said they come for the ample snow.
"If you look at the old buildings in Jackman, they have a second-story door. That was used when the snow came up that high, probably back in the '30s or '40s," Grenier said.
But all woods travelers here want a destination. And the snowmobile journey that leads to Pittston Farm from Jackman can leave from its doorsteps just as well.
A STOP IN THE WOODS
Riding the snowmobile trails from Pittston Farm to the store at North East Carry offers another trip back in time.
The trails on a weekday are peaceful, isolated and set deep in the woods.
On the trail to North East Carry, a sledder passes coves and frozen sections of Seboomook Lake. It's not uncommon to see a huge buck jump in and out of the trail as you ride. (And were the photographer/guide for this story not going 35 mph at the time, we'd prove it.)
The North East Carry general store is a collection of buck-board cabins, old-school baked goods, picnic-cloth tables and plenty of Maine woods stories from proprietor Ed Raymond.
And, of course, loads of deer.
To say Raymond loves the whitetails he feeds in the winter with high-protein pellets doesn't capture his devotion. To him, these wild woodland neighbors are ambassadors to the forestland.
"We're really happy when no one comes when we feed the deer," Raymond said. "We don't get to go out and drink. We don't get to out to dinner. I was doing this before we had the store. We look forward to them showing up."
Ben Cayford came to ride around Pittston Farm with five friends from Skowhegan, something they do a few times a winter.
They ride from Pittston Farm to the same location – North East Carry – but for them, the trip never gets old.
"All we had is rain in Skowhegan. The snow's all gone. We could tell from the snow report that there was snow here," Cayford said. "We ride to North East Carry. You can see 40 to 50 deer getting fed right there. It's so cool."
Deirdre Fleming, Portland Press Herald, February 14, 2010
Lakes: Seboomook Lake
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