If you ask me what my favorite place on Earth is, I’d have to say, hands down, that it’s Lake George Regional Park.
I don’t say this lightly.
Having grown up in Skowhegan and spent many lazy, hot summer days swimming in the clear, cold water of the lake, I have fond memories and a deep attachment for the lake that goes beyond words.
When I was teenager, I got my first summer job washing dishes at Camp Modin, which occupied both the west side of the lake in Skowhegan, known as the girls’ side, and the east or Canaan side, known as the boys’ side. I lived in the boys’ side dining hall overlooking the lake and lived in a room on the second floor where kitchen and stable crews were housed.
I earned $32 a week — no small chunk of change for a first job that included free room and board — and I learned a whole lot about kitchen work, teamwork and how to be a good employee.
I also made many friends from all over the world, learned a lot about and relished everything about the rich Jewish culture, and expanded my horizons beyond small-town Maine.
I loved it so much that I returned for a second summer, and a third. The third and last year, I ran the kitchen on the girls’ side and lived upstairs over the dining hall, which was on a small island and has since been razed.
I kept in touch with my Modin friends, visiting them in New York City after I went off to college in Connecticut. We saw Broadway shows, spent weekends together on Long Island and had lots of fun reminiscing about Modin.
Many years later, after returning to Maine, I would write newspaper stories about the eventual closing of Camp Modin on Lake George and its move to Salmon Lake in Oakland.
After the camp’s exodus in 1992, the beautiful Modin property on Lake George could have been gobbled up by hungry developers, had it not been for two forward-thinking women and a landowner who was determined to ensure its protection.
Modin owner David Adler met me at the Skowhegan side of the lake one day and told me he was looking for a buyer, but he refused to let the land go to someone who would develop and destroy it.
Around the same time, Louise Townsend, of Canaan, called me early one morning and asked if I could keep a secret that later would be divulged. She and Kathy Peatman (now Perelka), also of Canaan, were devising a plan to get the state to buy the Modin property as a way to protect it and keep it for central Mainers to enjoy for a long time.
I agreed to keep the plans under wraps, barely able to contain my excitement.
After a lot of hard work and tricky negotiations, dream became reality. The state bought the property and agreed to lease it to the towns of Canaan and Skowhegan, which formed a nonprofit corporation to run the park. Nancy Warren became the park’s first director; Bob Hubbard was the first park ranger and continues in that role today.
And thanks to a lot of hardworking, determined, loving, caring people, the park is a beautiful gem, still operating in its 20th year.
I stopped by there Sunday and walked, alone, along the east side shore where campers once jumped off the long dock into the water, swam and canoed there, and on Friday evenings, celebrated the Sabbath on the grassy point facing north.
The park, awash in autumn color, was lovelier than ever. The water so clear and pristine, I could see right down to the bottom, as I could 40 years ago.
Later, I ran into park director Jeff McCabe on the Skowhegan side of the lake, where he was just winding up a fall festival of canoeing, kayaking and trail hikes, among other activities. McCabe, who became the park’s second director about five years ago, was saying goodbye to Steve Dionne and Iver Lofving, both members of the park’s board of directors.
We talked about the lake and our respective associations with it — all derived from different experiences.
McCabe, 35, talks about the park with as much enthusiasm as the Modinites who returned year after year, and as Townsend, Perelka, Warren, Hubbard and all the others who made the dream reality.
On Oct. 20, the park will hold its annual spaghetti supper and auction — the park’s largest fundraiser of the year — at 5 p.m. at the Skowhegan Community Center.
McCabe, Dionne and Lofving are hoping for a very big crowd, to help pay tribute to the park’s 20 successful years.
What a great way to celebrate what truly is a jewel in central Maine’s crown.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]