It’s no secret that many at Colby do not love the Central Maine region or at least show little interest in exploring it. People talk about the “Colby bubble” all the time. However, Colby is very close to a region that has long been a popular tourist destination in New England: the Belgrade Lakes.
The Belgrade Lakes region includes seven major bodies of water: Great Pond, North Pond, East Pond, Long Pond, McGrath Pond, Salmon Lake, and Messalonskee Lake. The region is home to the small towns of Rome, Belgrade, and Oakland. In fact, Oakland is less than ten minutes away from Colby and is perhaps best known on campus for being home to Early Bird Restaurant, a popular breakfast destination for Colby students.
According to the town of Belgrade’s website, the first settler built a hunting lodge in the region in 1774. After several others settled there in the following two decades, the town was incorporated in 1796. Like many other towns in Maine, it was home to several grist mills and lumber mills starting in the early 1800s, though only two small lumber mills remain today. Since then, the Belgrade Lakes region has grown to be a popular place for fishing, ice fishing in the winter, hiking, swimming, golfing, and simply as a summer respite for vacationers.
Today, the region includes many vacation cabins, some of which are only used during the summer months, drawing people looking for outdoor recreation combined with a quiet lifestyle. The lakes are also home to several summer camps, such as the New England Golf and Tennis Camp, New England Music Camp, the Pine Island Camp for Boys, and Camp Modin, the oldest Jewish summer camp here in New England.
The Belgrade Lakes offer a variety of recreational activities for the public. The Belgrade Lakes Golf Club is a public course in the region between Great Pond and Long Pond. The course was built by Harold Alfond, who wanted everyone to have the chance to experience the region’s beauty and learn golf without having to pay to be part of a club. The course was listed by Golf Digest on their Top 100 Greatest Public Courses, and was the top public course in Maine on that list. The area also offers several public hiking trails, including French Mountain and Mount Phillip, both of which offer panoramic views.
The public also has access to lakes and beaches in the towns of Belgrade, Rome, and Oakland, which are popular for swimming in the summer. Fishing is also popular on the lakes, both in the summer and the winter. The most popular fish to catch include brook trout, largemouth bass, and landlocked salmon.
Beyond all the recreational activities, the lakes are known simply for their beautiful scenery, especially in the fall when they offer great views of New England’s fall foliage.
Although the region is sometimes forgotten by the Colby community, the campus is involved in the region in several ways. The Colby Hume Center is located on Messalonskee Lake, the closest of the Belgrade Lakes to Colby seven miles from campus. The center includes a boathouse and training center used by the men’s and women’s crew teams, who base there and often practice rowing on the lake during the milder months of the school year. The Hume Center is also used as a woodshop for classes during Jan Plan, as well as early in the fall and late in the spring by Colby students looking to swim in the lake.
The Belgrade Lakes are also known around the Colby Biology and Chemistry departments due to their ongoing efforts to monitor the water quality, and work to keep the region’s watershed sustainable. Colby has worked closely with the Maine Lakes Resource Center, a community organization dedicated to researching and educating people on the quality of the lakes. A Colby task force, including nine professors from the Biology, Geology, Environmental Studies, and Economics departments, as well as several students, and conservation partners, have worked hard to evaluate the health of the lakes in recent years, and come up with a plan to ensure their sustainability.
The Belgrade Lakes region is a beautiful area offering many interesting recreational activities. Despite efforts by the Colby community, however, the Belgrade Lakes often still remain ignored by the students on campus.