September 10, 2012

Generations care for family retreat

OWL’S HEAD — Angus “Gus” Gagnon retired recently as caretaker of the Matamek Preserve: the third generation of caretakers from his family to work at the private 4,000 acre property.

Matamek is a family-owned retreat outside Owl’s Head originally founded by Malone native and U.S. Congressman Ashbel P. Fitch, with a 13-acre land purchase in 1886. It has since grown to 4,000 acres, consisting of nine camps, all off the grid, circling pristine Ragged Lake. The preserve has served as a summer vacation retreat for six generations of Fitch’s descendents since.

Most of the families who use the preserve, Gus explained, are from the New York metropolitan area. They travel to the Adirondacks in July and August each year to unplug and unwind, then return to the city refreshed.

Just as Matamek has stayed in the same hands throughout the years, caretaking responsibilities have been a family tradition there as well, with both Gus’s father, Joe, and grandfather, Chester Lester, serving before him. Together, they worked at Matamek for more than half the preserve’s 126-year history. For Gus, this type of stability is its own reward.

“The land hasn’t changed in my 25 years there,” he said. “You can sit in any place, any one of the camps, and see the same views that you would have seen in the early 1900s.”


In his quarter century as caretaker, helping the lake rebound from the devastating effects of acid rain has been a priority for Gus. It has come back to the point that trout have successfully returned to the lake. He also boasts of seeing moose, pine martens, spruce grouse and even a mountain lion on the preserve. And he says the loons are so friendly that they’ll come up beside a boat paddling on the lake. Motored boats are forbidden on the lake, except for the caretaker’s.

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