Lake George Regional Park in Skowhegan seen March 26, 2020. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

You have to wonder if, many years from now, we will remember the people who tipped the scales to make great things happen.

I was thinking about that Sunday as I drove back to Waterville from Lake George Regional Park West in Skowhegan where I had covered a sledding event.

Though I don’t visit the park as often as I used to, being there always lightens my heart.

And as I look out over the frozen lake and pristine landscape, I always exclaim to myself how lucky we are to have such a gem, when things could have been quite different.

At the sledding event, children and adults flew down the snowy hill on sleds, laughing and delighted to be able to socialize safely during a pandemic that has kept us all apart for nearly a year.

It was heartwarming to see people having fun in a place I know so intimately.

“I lived in a building on that island one summer,” I told a young woman I was interviewing.

That building, a dining hall for the former Camp Modin, was torn down years ago on the island, which connects to the park’s mainland via a short drive. I worked and lived there for a summer in the mid-1970s, but my experience with the lake started long before that.

As children in the 1960s, we kids would pile into the back of our neighbor’s pickup truck in the hot summers and drive from Skowhegan to Canaan to swim on the east side of the lake, just off the dirt road that now leads to what is known as Lake George Regional Park East in that town.

When I became a teenager, I got my first job washing dishes in the kitchen at Camp Modin, on what the camp called the boys’ side of the lake in Canaan. I lived upstairs, over the dining hall, which was situated right on the beach. I worked at Modin three summers all together, the second as a waitress, also on the east side. During the third summer, I was assistant cook on the west, or girls’ side, where I lived on the second floor of the island dining hall.

I made many friends with campers, counselors and staff from all over the world. Many of us stayed in touch throughout the winters, and when I went off to college in Connecticut, I visited my Modin friends in New York and other places.

A view of Lake George Regional Park looking west from Canaan to Skowhegan on Thursday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

After living away from Maine many years and returning in 1987, I once again spent time at Lake George through my newspaper reporting. In 1992, the Camp Modin property was sold after the camp itself moved to Salmon Lake in Belgrade. The process for turning the Skowhegan and Canaan properties from summer camp to regional park was long and involved a lot of hard work.

I remember about 30 years ago meeting with David Adler, who with his wife, Amy, had inherited the former Modin property from her uncle, Sam Kadison, whom I worked for many years before. Standing on the steps of the west side dining hall, Adler told me they wanted to sell the property, but it had to be to someone who would care for and not develop it. He confided in me at the time that he was terminally ill and wanted to make sure, before he died, that the land was not broken up, piecemeal, and become inaccessible to the public.

One morning, early, I got a call from Louise Townsend, a friend from Canaan who confided in me that she and Kathy Peatman (now Perelka), also of Canaan, had devised a plan to try to turn the property into a park for all to enjoy. They were working to convince the state to purchase the land, turn it into a park, and have the towns of Skowhegan and Canaan lease it for that purpose. I had worked at Modin years earlier with Louise’s son, Ben, and daughter, Meneely, who was my best friend.

I felt privileged, not only to be let in on the secret Louise Townsend imparted, but also to be able to witness what followed — a long process that would ultimately make their dream become reality. I wrote dozens of stories along the way as plans progressed, excited to be part of it.

If it weren’t for Townsend and Perelka’s foresight and determination, the park would not be there for all of us to enjoy, and the clean, spring-fed lake likely no longer pristine. Admittedly, there were others who helped see the project to fruition, including the state Department of Conservation and the Land for Maine’s Future, which funded the land purchase, and the Lake George Corp., which oversees the park.

But Townsend and Perelka were the impetus.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to the women, who I thank silently every time I think about the park and how that landscape could look very different, all developed with who-kn0ws-what.

If not for their vision and dogged efforts to make it reality, we wouldn’t have the jewel that is Lake George Regional Park.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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