BELGRADE — Knowing the potential dangers of delivering mail on Great Pond by boat has saved Norman Shaw a lot of grief.

His biggest concerns are running over a rope strung out to a buoy and crashing into a pile of rocks with his Boston Whaler.

The independent contractor for the U.S. Postal Service has been delivering mail on the 8,000-acre lake for the past nine years.

Last Thursday morning, Shaw throttled back to idle as he inched his way to the dock. He quickly shoved letters into a mailbox, then backed out over the rope without tangling it up in his outboard engine.

“It’s all in the timing,” Shaw said. “In the southern end, if the wind’s blowing and I have to back up because of the ropes, water will come in over the back and I have to run my pump.”

But he and many of his grateful customers who own summer homes are worried the mail boat service may soon be coming to an end. Shaw previously thought the three-month-a-year service was going to end last September, but the Postal Service gave him a two-year extension.

Customers worry, though, that the end of the contract will spell the end for the service as the financially struggling Postal Service cuts back on expenses.

“A lot of them out this way have influence and I think that’s how my contract got reinstated,” Shaw said. “There are people out here who got political help to get it reinstated.”

People like Jack Schultz, who is on the board of the Belgrade Lakes Association and Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance. Schultz, whose family has been getting their mail by boat since 1936, said the postal service tried to get rid of the water route five years ago, too. He went to Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and helped publicize the issue in news stories.

“No one wanted this tradition to end,” he said.

Tom Rizzo, the Maine USPS spokesman, said the postal service is dealing with some major issues and that the mail boat service in Belgrade is not on its radar.

“There’s not any indication one way or another what’s going to happen with that service in two years,” Rizzo said.

‘All good on Great Pond’

Charles McCandlish, another customer who greeted Shaw at the dock, said the service is part of the Great Pond experience. It’s what makes the lake unique.

Shaw said the mail boat service has been around for a century. He noted that Dave Webster, who held the contract for 49 years, delivered mail to playwright Ernest Thompson, who modeled the mail boat captain after Webster for his play that later became the movie “On Golden Pond.”

A retired teacher from Hallowell, Shaw said he has built a relationship with the people he meets on his route and says they are “absolutely wonderful.”

Standing at the steering console, he slowly moved away from a dock and waved at a group of people on a pontoon boat.

The pontoon captain yells: “It’s a nice day!”

“Yep, it’s beautiful,” Shaw yells back. “It’s all good on Great Pond.”

Shaw said he was worried about a couple of older lake dwellers who had not yet returned for the summer.

“I get attached to the older people,” he said. “We seem to lose one or two a year.”

Shaw recalls a request from Kathy Lowell, who asked him to stop by and say hello to her elderly dad who owned a camp on the lake and had been ill. Family members helped the frail man walk down to the water edge to greet Shaw.

“We talked about the good old days and how he was feeling,” he said. “He was the one who always ran the sailboat race here in August. He just loved sailing. Sadly, that was the last time I saw him.”

It takes about three hours for Shaw to make his stops and steer the boat in and around the islands.

He had 30 deliveries last Thursday, but said that will grow to around 105 by the Fourth of July weekend.

Famous deliveries

Shaw said he enjoys the beauty of Great Pond with its islands, and wildlife — loons abundant — and the fascinating tales of the pond residents and the area’s colorful history.

He tells how materials to build a cottage in the early 1900s were hauled across a frozen lake because there were no roads leading to the property. Then there was the old farmhouse on Hoyts Island that was moved across the frozen lake down Mill Stream and put on a foundation next to the Village Inn.

There’s Camp Relief on the Rome side of the lake; Pine Island Camp, a boys’ camp at the south end; Woodland Camps, a line of rustic fishing camps now privately owned; and Bear Springs Camps on the north end.

He passes Camp Liberty, a seasonal home built in 1919 by a soldier returning World War l, and the summer home of James Duffus, a longtime friend of former President George H.W. Bush.

“He has a picture on the dock of the president and his wife,” Shaw said.

Shaw talks about ice harvesting on the lake between 1880 and 1920, some of which was shipped as far away as Jamaica. And Camp Merryweather, once a boys camp in North Belgrade owned by the family of children’s author Laura E. Richards. Her mother, Julia Ward Howe, was the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

On the last leg of his route, Shaw pulls into a shallow cove where the sun reflects off the sand, giving the water a golden hue. Ernest Thompson’s summer cottage, which is for sale, is on the edge of what is known as Golden Pond Cove.

Shaw said Thompson, who lives in Vermont, came out on the dock with his son the day before to chat.

“He said they’re doing the play again this summer in New Hampshire,” Shaw said. “He’s got a part in it. He’s going to be the mailman. I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I could have played the mailman.’ I have the authentic Maine accent.”

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]

VIDEO ONLINE

To watch video of Norman Shaw and his mail boat in Belgrade, visit kjonline.com

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