RANGELEY — When you hike up to the summit of the mountains of Rangeley and look out over the lakes district, it becomes remarkably clear that this region, like much of Maine, is blanketed by forest.

That was the impetus for the opening of the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum in 1979. And it’s why in the past few years locals have gotten behind an effort to upgrade the museum and make it more relevant to the entire state. In the coming weeks, a new sign will hang with a new name in front of the log cabin on Route 16: the Maine Forestry Museum.

“Here everybody’s a logger. When my dad was growing up it’s what most people did,” said Ron Haines, 77, whose father, Lawrence, was a founding member of the museum.

The history of logging in the Rangeley region dates back at least two centuries to a time of logging camps, log drives and draft horse rigs.

Today, one of the most forested states in the nation still employs plenty of loggers, but the forest here also is used for recreation by those traveling on foot, or by snowmobiles, skis or canoes.

Rangeley is a prime example of this shared use. While logging trucks regularly buzz through town, hikers can be found traversing the Appalachian Trail that cuts across the mountains. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile waterway once taken by native Americans, winds north across the forest, passing kiosks that explain its past.


Museum founder Rodney Richard collected logging machines and tools to preserve the region’s history.

“Rodney was called the ‘Mad Whittler,'” Haines said. “He started to collect logging artifacts and kept them on his front lawn. After about 10 years he decided he should house them. He got a local contractor and they built this basic building.”

But Haines said the effort to run the museum lost steam and it fell into disrepair.

The museum had no driveway, no porch or railings, no signs of vitality, and little to draw tourists, Haines said. The roof was leaking and rotting in places.

“It didn’t have any legs. We needed to put time into it before we lost it,” he said.

Haines, who grew up in Rangeley before going to Europe to teach English, returned to his hometown 10 years ago and immediately began helping revive the museum with the help of volunteers.


After two years of rallying around the effort and raising more than $16,000 in donations, the forestry museum is far from a lost cause.

With the help of local lumber yards, charitable companies, and local volunteers it got a face-lift in the last year with fresh new siding and a new front porch artfully decorated with twisting branches along the banisters.

The inside also was refinished and a second floor added, where chainsaw and chainsaw-art displays sit. Skylights now help to brighten the entire museum with natural light. Outside under a new pavilion are housed the century-old logging machines used for cutting and hauling logs on horse sleds.

“It was very rustic a few years ago. But in the last year and a half it got a beautiful new facade. It’s wonderful. Logging is still a very vital part of our existence here,” said Sonja Johnson, the art teacher at Rangeley Lakes Regional School, whose students visit the museum each spring.

The museum, which originally sat on 16 acres, now is home to 148 acres of forestland donated recently and now full of trails, bridges and water overlooks.

“We put up bird boxes last year. But we’re not sure if there are sparrows in them yet,” said volunteer Ray Heaton of Sandy River Plantation.


Just a few years ago the museum’s visiting hours were uncertain. Now the Maine Forestry Museum is open and run by volunteer guides from Wednesday through Sunday for most of the summer.

And the locals behind the effort say they are not done yet.

“There will soon be an addition full of interactive displays,” said Marty Velishka, the director of acquisitions, with a wink.

The buildings and chainsaw art still celebrate the museum’s first founder, Rodney Richards, but locals have taken Richards’ barn full of logging artifacts and turned it into a place that tells a story.

“A lot of businesses are still involved in forestry. It’s a relevant part of life here,” said Johnson, the art teacher. “My grandfather brought the logs down the chain of ponds standing on the logs and pushing them down the river.”


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