Maine Guides Face New Challenges
by V. Paul Reynolds
Registered Maine Guide

In outdoor circles over the years, from the Mirimichi to the Madison, from Fairbanks to the Florida Flats, this appellation and its distinctive, colorful shoulder patch, always seem to attract some attention and special regard.

The term conjurs an image of a self-reliant, woodswise soul who, through experience and temperament, is qualified to lead you in the Maine outdoors, to get you and your canoe safely through some wild whitewater, or get a warming campfire going in a chilling June downpour.

What is a Maine Guide, anyway? Who are they? How does one become a licensed guide? Is there a school, a process? How much does it cost? Where do you get information? How many guides are there? What's the history behind the Maine guides? And, perhaps most important of all, what are the challenges facing Maine guides as they begin their second hundred years?

In 1997, the Professional Maine Guides Association celebrated its 100th anniversary! Its official beginning dates back to March 23, 1897 when Maine enacted a law requiring that outdoor guides be licensed. The law was an outgrowth of a number of factors. Sporting camps and summer resorts began to spring up throughout Maine as the affluent leisure class from the industrialized urban Northeast sought outdoor recreation. Additionally, Maine people became concerned about the welfare of Maine's forests and wildlife.

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The guides of that era, who were usually seasonal lumbermen or farmers, were looked upon as likely stewards who could serve as agents of conservation. The law that created licensed Maine guides envisioned them as assistant wildlife managers who could provide biological data about wildlife that would help the state Fish and Game Department manage the state's wildlife populations. The act read in part..."to further prevent forest fires and to facilitate the gathering of statistics relative to the amount of inland fish and game killed and taken in the state, and for the further protection of inland fish and game, and for the registration of guides."

According to Richard Scribner, there were about 1,700 licensed Maine guides in this state in 1899. Today, according to Connie Latno who recently retired as coordinator of the guide licensing program for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there are more than 2,000 licensed guides in Maine.

For many years, a Maine Guide was not required to submit to any standardized testing. He (or she, in the case of Maine's most famous early female guide Fly Rod Crosby) simply had to pass muster with the local game warden. If he considered you qualified and fit to guide people in the outdoors, presto! You were duly registered as a Maine guide.

This all changed in 1975 when a standardized test and procedure was established for licensing Maine guides. Today there are nine different categories of Maine guide licenses. They are:

hunting, fishing, recreation, hunting and fishing, hunting and recreation, fishing and recreation, sea kayaking, tidewater and master guide.

One becomes a Master Maine Guide by successfully qualifying in the written and oral tests for fishing, hunting and recreation. Sanctioned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Maine Guides program is administered by a seven-member Guide's Advisory Board. Three of the board members are game wardens, three are registered Maine guides and one is a non-guide citizen of the state.

For the purposes of testing prospective guides, the advisory board is then broken down into two or three member testing boards. One member of the testing board is always a game warden and the other member is either a registered guide or a laymen representative from the larger advisory board.

Once a guide applicant has satisfied the paperwork requirements and received appropriate study literature from the Department, separate testing dates are scheduled for the written examination and the oral examination. An applicant who scores 70 or higher on the written test goes on to take the oral examination, which normally lasts from one hour to an hour and a half. According to Latno, the success rate on the written test varies from 80 to 90 percent. The oral test is a tougher hurdle; approximately half or more of the applicants fail the oral examination the first time it is taken. Applicants who fail may re-apply for a testing date.

Tests are given at the various regional warden headquarters throughout the state. A list of formal guide training programs is available from the Department. There is a non-refundable $100 application fee to cover administrative costs, associated paperwork and study guides. Fee for a three-year guide's license is $79.

According to Wilmot "Wiggie" Robinson, a veteran Millinocket Guide and longtime member of the Guide's Examing Board, competition (for the guide's license) is increasing as noted by the number of new guide's licenses issued each year. " The IF&W Licensing Division (for Guide's licenses) is still unable to get ahead of applications," says Robinson. "Guide Training Classes and schools are full all over the state, in spite of high fees for these courses. And they are helpful if one desires to become a guide. Applicants who have taken a course average better scores and a higher percentage of succcess in testing than those who don't," Robinson claims.

"One of the most important things I see is good news, but in some ways, bad news too," says Gil Gilpatrick, a Skowhegan guide and member of the Guide's Examining Board. "We (guides) have created such a favorable image that everyone wants to be one! Time and time again a happy and successful candidate for a guide's license will turn to us and say, 'I never plan to use this, I just wanted to do it,' " observes Gilpatrick. "We, as examiners, know very well that some of the candidates we pass have very little actual in-the-woods experience, but if they have the answers, then we have no choice but to pass them," he says. Gilpatrick adds that guides schools throughout the state have seen to it that the guide applicants have the answers. "We try to make changes (in the examinations and oral testing) but there is just so much a volunteer board can do."

As the Maine guide profession begins the new millenium, it is commonly acknowledged among those whose livelihood depends on the Maine outdoors that "times are a changin." What are the challenges facing the state's guiding community in the new century? This question was the central topic of discussion during Guides Rendezvous 2000, a large, 3-day gathering of guides held at The Forks this past June.

Prior to the June meeting, more than two dozen veteran guides from all over Maine were surveyed to find out what these challenges were for guide's in the next century. In this survey, the issue of land access for outdoor recreation clearly stood out as the singlemost concern shared by the state's professional guides and outfitters. Here are some of their comments on the issue of access:

Loss of habitat is often given as the major cause of a decline in game populations. Well, loss of habitat is also a major cause in loss of lands to recreate on. In recent years there have been some big land sales and in some cases that has led to changes in the management of these lands. Gates, fees and even complete loss of some lands all have an impact on how guides do their business.
-Wilmot "Wiggie" Robinson, Millinocket

But, from central Maine south this is a real problem (access) for a guide who does not own large tracts of land. My own area, a country road between Fairfield and Skowhegan, is a good example. Drive that 15 or 16 miles and you would be hard pressed to find a place to enter the woods without crossing a No Trespassing sign.
-Gil Gilpatrick, Skowhegan

Perhaps the foremost challenge to guiding in Maine is the same one facing hunters and fishermen in general, that of access to land and water. No guiding is possible without access to private land and the patterns of land ownership and forest stewardship are of primary concern to the guiding community.
-Bob Cram, Millinocket

How to restrict access while at the same time promote tourism and at least keep the status quo for guides and sporting camps, as well as satisfying those who insist on increased access.
-John Richardson, Nugents Camps

The No. One challenge is going to be the reduction in available recreational area. My concern is that the holding companies of the vast forest spaces will soon be selling leases of large tracts of land restricting the access of the smaller guide services.
-Malcolm Charles, Pointers Run Pheasant Preserve

Most pressing issue: access to private land. Will it change as land ownership patterns continue to change?
-Matt Libby, Libby Camps

I feel that my biggest challenge is to find remote waters and woods where roads haven't opened up with boat launches, etc...Without wilderess, remoteness, wild fish and game and shore lunches, the Maine Guide will become a Maine tour director.
-Matt Polstein, New England Outdoor Center

Of course, the survey also showed - as might be expected from a group of hardworking, independent entrepreneurs who often operate their small businesses on the margins -that many other concerns occupy their attention,as well as land access.

Millinocket guide Wiggie Robinson, who has seen it all as both an active fishing and hunting guide and former chairman of the Fish and Willdiufe Commissioner's Advisory Council and guide examiner, observes: "In my opinion, the future of guiding lies in individualism, character and truth. Explaining my thinking on these topics: sporting camps are becoming out of style, expensive and out of date with the times. "Sports" are demanding more luxuries at a camp. No longer is the kerosene lamp, the outdoor privy or the woodstove something to be desired. Modern camps that provide indoor plumbing, showers, wall to wall carpets and a warm-in-the-morning cabin get preference over the old-fashioned styles."

The guide's survey also indicated a sense of the changing times as some respondents acknowledged that for the guide to survive in the next century he will have to adapt. Millinocket guide and freelance outdoor writer Bob Cram said it best: Cram wrote, " A further challenge to guides in our fast-changing world is that of providing a quality outdoor experience that adapts to changes in clientele and demographics. Nothing remains static and the most successful guides will be those who fashion their services to the changing needs of the sporting public. The definition of outdoor recreation has broadened dramatically in recent years, to include not just hunting, fishing and trapping, but nature watching, canoeing and kayaking, plant identification and gathering, hiking, outdoor cooking and learning wilderness skills, to name but a few. Guides who offer potential clients the widest range of possibilities for their outdoor experience will be the ones who remain competitive through good years and bad."

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 6 p.m. on 103.9, and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

Anyone wishing to apply for a Maine guide's license may write to: Guide's License, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Sta# 41, 284 State St., Augusta, Maine 04333, or call 207-287-3614.

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