Tim Caverly supervised the Allagash Wilderness Waterway for 18 years, more than half his career with the Maine Department of Conservation (now part of a vast department that also oversees agriculture and forestry). After he retired from the department in 1999, he developed a second career he says he never expected: writing children’s books and giving presentations all over his native state (and beyond, mostly in New England) about the Maine wilderness and the value of the experiences to be had there. We called Caverly to talk about Maine’s great outdoors in the 21st century, not long before he was due to give a presentation at the Standish Fish & Game Club this Wednesday.

WORTH THE DETOUR: He says he never expected to become a public speaker. “Nor did I think about writing. I suspect my English teacher is spinning in her grave, thinking about me putting words on paper.” But he follows a basic philosophy – contributing “where you think you can be the most help.”

RANGER TIM: In this case, sharing what he’d learned on the job turned out to be the best way to help other Mainers. All told, Caverly spent 32 years with the Department of Conservation, starting out when he was still a college student at the University of Maine at Machias and worked as a ranger at Sebago Lake State Park, then managing Aroostook and Cobscook Bay state parks before moving onto the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and ultimately becoming regional supervisor of the entire Allagash Region. He also holds a teaching certificate from the University of Maine at Machias. His segue into park work was a natural fit with his upbringing, he said. How so?

FAMILY BUSINESS: Caverly grew up on a farm in Cornville. He went to a one-room schoolhouse and watched “Lassie” and “Davy Crockett” on TV, but spent most of his time in the outdoors. His father worked at a woolen mill in Skowhegan but also raised cattle and horses “and enough vegetables to sell to the local canning company.” (Caverly thinks the sales were to H.C. Baxter & Brothers Canning Company in Hartland.) But in the mid-1950s, with the mills closing, his father lost his job. He went to work for the Maine Forest Service as a fire warden. His father already had a lot of tools of that trade. “You did what you had to do then. Sometimes you had to go hunting to get a deer or a partridge to feed the family. Part of it was being a farmer and part of it was understanding being outdoors.”

TAKE YOUR SON/BROTHER TO WORK DAYS: To the youngest of the four Caverly boys, his father’s new gig represented pure delight. “When I was 12 years old I was riding on the forestry truck with the red lights and the sirens.” He would even put a tank on his back and fight the flames at times, and his mother dressed him up “in a green tie and pants and a brown shirt” so he’d look like part of the crew. Between that and an older brother who was working as the ranger at Katahdin Stream in Baxter State Park (he worked in the park for 46 years), Caverly developed a serious yen for the outdoors. “He said to me, ‘There is a mountain to climb and trout to catch.’ ” As a consequence of that invitation from his brother, he said, he grew up appreciating the values of the wilderness and “what Gov. Baxter did with the park.”

A doe drinks from Chamberlain Lake in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Staff file photo by John Ewing

THE MOUNTAIN: First time up Katahdin? “I was probably 13.” Which way did he go? “The Hunt Trail. The real bouldery one.” Last time? “Several years ago, my daughter said, ‘We (she and a group of friends) would like to climb Katahdin, and we want you to come with us.’ And I said sure, when? And she says, ‘Tomorrow morning at 5 a.m.’ ” The pack of young women were helping him – “taking my elbows” – but ultimately, he said, he was the first up and the first down.

ROAD WARRIOR: In the last eight years Caverly and his company, Allagash Tails, has presented 234 programs. They vary from “So You Think You Know Maine” to a historic overview of the Allagash. “That one is probably our most popular.” He estimates he’s talked to 8,000 school students, ranging geographically all over Maine, New Hampshire and also into Vermont. When he’s not speaking to children, he’s visiting libraries, senior communities, veterans homes and fairs (yes, he’ll be at the Common Ground Country Fair later this month). “We’re scheduling into 2019.” Caverly spoke to us as he was gearing up for the third day of the American Folk Festival in Bangor. After that, he was headed to New Hampshire for a craft show and another event before the one in Standish. Just how much time does he spend on the road? Maybe just a little more than his wife would like.

HAPPY CAMPERS: But to counter all that driving – he said it was up to 2,000 miles in a month – he and his wife, who live in Millinocket, started establishing a base camp in their 27-foot camper as they tour. “Trying to save our energy and mileage.” And motel costs – “they’re expensive.” For instance, they booked themselves into Camden Hills State Park for two weeks in July. “As long as my wife and my golden retriever are with me, I’m good.” (They’re on their fourth golden, Sandi, who is “very sharp” and who has been featured in Angus King’s Instagram photos as well as in the new book Islandport Press published of King’s photos.)

NO FREE LUNCH: But the recent weeks of free day admission to state parks – courtesy of Gov. LePage in the dwindling days of his administration – didn’t sit well with Caverly. “Right now I think our park system is being abused.” How so? Folding the Department of Conservation into the same umbrella as agriculture and forestry was a mistake, he said. It’s too much for one commissioner to oversee. And furthermore, the staff doesn’t get the training they need to deal with the public, and lack enforcement authority. They’re overworked, he said. They’re under pressure to do more with less. “They’re always being told, work smarter, buy less equipment. But at some point, you can’t do more with less.” Furthermore, this was a bad month for the governor to open up the gates: “August is the biggest money maker for the state park system,” Caverly said. “If they were going to do that, why wouldn’t they do that in June or July, something to increase use when the staff isn’t already overworked?”

JOB SATISFACTION: Not that he doesn’t want people using the park system. On the contrary: After he gives a program at a school, he’ll often run into the kids later, with their parents. “And the kids will say, ‘Dad, can you take me down the Allagash? Will you take me to climb Katahdin?’ ”

STATE OF MIND: For someone who knows Maine as well as Caverly, what are his favorite destinations? “I’m going to name places that aren’t as well known. Cobscook Bay State Park. Roque Bluffs in Machias. Allagash Lake on the Allagash. And Mt. Blue State Park. Because you have not only the mountains to climb in western Maine but you have the natural waterfall trails. And the Height of Land.” Get the bucket list out.

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