OQUOSSOC – With five of the Maine’s largest lakes interconnected, historic wild brook trout rivers, and a mountainous region so impressive that $2.1 million in federal grant money was just spent on a scenic overlook, Rangeley seems to have it all for a pristine, outdoor playground.

Yet locals are hoping the state’s moose lottery June 23 in Oquossoc and the three-day moose festival they have created around it will introduce more people to the Rangeley region.

“We are struggling in a poor economy in a town that is, quite literally, at the end of the road. I agree this is an outdoor Mecca. But there’s lots of competition in Maine. That’s good for the state, but tough for Rangeley,” said Stephen Philbrick of Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc.

Philbrick, who lobbied the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to get the moose lottery moved to Rangeley, said coupling the June lottery with a new outdoor festival could help the region. The lottery moves to a different location every year, and each year the host group creates a carnival full of games and events for the day of the lottery.

The Rangeley Region Guides & Sportsmen’s Association took it two steps further and created a three-day moose festival.

And the locals have all pitched in to plan it. Now they’re waiting, hoping for a big bash after a poor winter killed tourism in the region.

“There are not many places in Maine you can be on a big lake and look out on wilderness. But, people’s idea of wilderness has changed,” said Paul Noyes at Lakeside Convenience and Marina on Rangeley Lake. “Twenty to thirty years ago, they wanted a drafty log cabin. Now, they want a new log cabin with a TV. A lot of the sporting camps are closing down.”

For an area that put Maine on the map as an outdoor destination, that’s tough to take.

The western Maine region has been a famous outdoor destination since at least the 1890s, when the region’s chief advocate, Registered Maine Guide Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, traveled to Madison Square Garden by train to sell her home waters to wealthy city anglers. And she didn’t have to give them much of a sales pitch. Rumors of fat brookies in the Rangeley rivers did Crosby’s selling for her.

Today, however, while the region still plays host to one of the last wild brook trout populations in the Northeast, trains full of tourists no longer run here. And locals wish more tourists — even more Mainers — knew about the outdoor treasures in Rangeley.

This is why when the people of the Rangeley region were told last year they would get a chance to host the moose lottery, the guides there didn’t think twice about what they would do with it.

“We love moose in Rangeley, not only to hunt but for viewing. And we see this as a chance to showcase all the outdoor opportunities we have,” said Sheri Oldham, a Master Maine Guide and the festival’s co-chair.

“For a lot of folks in Maine, Rangeley is a long day trip, so we wanted to plan a weekend full of activities men, women and kids will enjoy, so those families that come will have a good time, see the area, and maybe want to come back.”

The festival will feature a new event, the World Invitational Moose Calling Championship, as well as competitions in marksmanship, archery and fly casting and a fishing derby. There will be geocashing, a trampoline and a climbing wall for kids.

Gerry White, owner of River’s Edge Marina in Oquossoc, where the lottery will be held, said the locals know they can’t get the moose lottery again, but they hope to hold their new festival every year if it’s a hit.

“There is so much here, the best of fishing, and a number of trails. There also are a couple of waterfalls you can hike to, Cascade Falls and Small Falls. And Angel Falls is the best one, off Bemis Lake,” White said.

More than anything, the people of Rangeley hope their moose festival brings in other Mainers and shows them why this vast, wild lakes region is so special.

“If you travel around the state of Maine and mention Rangeley, a lot of people say, ‘I’ve heard of it. I’ve always wanted to go there.’ The moose lottery is our chance to show it to them,” Philbrick said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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