Traditions, legends live on in the heart of the Maine woods
Text and Photos By Julia Bayly
It was a scene straight out of Disney: The months-old calf bravely crossed a river channel to catch up with the cow moose vanishing into the thick brush on the other side. The sun was setting over the Allagash River as the cow turned and gently touched noses with the younger animal.
From our canoe, we could almost hear the delicate strings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the background.
Right up until the cow moose used her front hoof to roughly cuff the young calf several severe blows about her head, chasing the youngster off back across the channel amidst much splashing and commotion.
But that’s life along Maine’s longest wilderness waterway: sometimes bucolic, sometimes fierce and always surprising.
There are few better places to witness Maine’s north woods than along the Allagash River and few better places along the river than the historic Willard Jalbert Camps, with its buildings and traditions going back to just after the Second World War.
Nestled on Windy Point—a two-acre peninsula jutting out into Round Pond—the camps are accessible only by boat or floatplane.
A half dozen buildings, including a cookhouse with dining area, three bunkhouses and even a wood-fired sauna and rustic hot tub, are nestled among the spruce and fir.
Located about 40 miles from the village of Allagash, Maine, it’s an hour or so over dirt roads to the nearest access point at Henderson Bridge.
The camps are a testament to the days when lumbermen and guides ruled the waterway.
In fact, it was three of those guides, Willard Jalbert Jr. with his brother Robert Jalbert and their father Willard Sr., who built the camps in the late 1940s.
“We used to put in at Twin Brook and motor the canoes up the river to the camps,” says Phyllis Jalbert. “We had to portage around Allagash Falls and it took the whole day, it was really an adventure.”
Phyllis, 66 and herself a registered Maine guide who grew up in Fort Kent, is Willard Jalbert Jr.’s daughter and today divides her time between homes in New York and Maine, but no matter where she is, a part of her heart is at Windy Point.
The traditions of the north Maine woods run deep in her family so when the very existence of the camps came under fire as the state systematically removed all buildings from the along the river after it was designated a wilderness waterway, the Jalbert family members knew they had to save it.
“They fought like hell to keep it there,” she says. “It worked (and) today I have a long lease and the state has been really good about it.”
Jalbert is aware how fortunate she is to have the preserved family’s legacy. “Just the thought of those camps not being there would be like a death,” she says. “I just can’t imagine it.”
Maybe that’s because Phyllis and her five siblings grew up in a family with strong ties to the river. So well known are the guiding exploits of Willard Jalbert he’s often referred to as simply, “The old guide.”
“They were a breed of men of their own (and) they were so knowledgeable and wanted to share that knowledge with everyone,” says Phyllis Jalbert. “Of course, they weren’t so quick to share their favorite fishing holes,” she adds with a laugh.
So impressed was former Supreme Court Justice William Douglass when he stayed at the Jalbert Camps, he is credited with saying, “There are three kinds of bears in the Maine woods: black bears, brown bears and Jalberts.”
The words of Douglass and the countless others who have passed through the camps are recorded in a series of guest books and the observations, comments and reflections within those pages reflect the evolution of the waterway and the people on it.
“Broken motor—paddled from the head of Umasaskis Lake. Stopped at Uncle Sam’s camps in Long Lake.” Willard Jalbert Jr., wrote on Nov. 5, 1953, in the first volume, a book of yellowed lined paper and bound in birch bark. “Pat and Irvin invited me to spend the night. Had I not had such a warm reception I would have kept on going and spent the night on the river. Uncle Sam made some of his wonderful biscuits last night and this morning at 3 a.m. he was making doughnuts.”
That spirit of hospitality at Round Pond is alive and well thanks to Phyllis Jalbert and the core of local guides—or “sponsors” who take care of the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the camps.
“It’s very gratifying to come up here when you think of all the work that went into this place and the history of it,” says Andre Landry, one of those sponsors. “If walls could talk there would really be some stories here.”
Landry is often at the camps with his wife Norma, a gourmet wood’s cook if ever there was one.
It’s $35 a night plus the cost of groceries for adults to stay at the Jalbert camps. Per Phyllis Jalbert’s policy, students stay for free.
Jalbert manages to get up to northern Maine and into the camps several times a year these days. When she can, her mother, 93-year-old Blanche Jalbert makes the trip with her.
“It’s really such a chance to get close to nature,” she says. “The best friends I ever made were people I met on the river; it’s where everything gets stripped away and everyone is equal.”
Getting the family jeep stuck on the way to the river, riding in the back of an old panel truck over the dusty woods roads, picking fiddleheads at a favored spot along Musquacook Stream, and the pet turtle named Myrtle are all memories Jalbert carries that were born on Round Pond.
****Odds of Encountering Children: Low, unless you bring children with you. If you want to be 100% certain to avoid finding any kids there, book the entire camp. “It’s super rustic but I love the place!” says Julia Bayly.
The camps are available by reservation only. For information on the Jalbert Camps, call 718-858-4496 on weekdays or 718-834-2500 on weekends or check them and the other North Maine Woods camps online.