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A Fishin' Tradition
By Esther Perne

Like many vacation areas in inland Maine, the Belgrades' rise to prosperity and prominence began in the late 1800s with the fish. The conditions were ideal for those first few sportsmen who stumbled on the area, but it was the talking - or bragging - back home about the fish that put the Belgrades on the map. Trout, salmon, and especially the bass turned the Belgrades into a great summer resort area that gave rise to grand hotels, centrally-located lodges, and eventually to sporting camps.

Typically a cluster of rustic cabins with a central dining room and lounge, attentive service, visible ownership, a fleet of boats and guides, cabin boys who kept ice and wood well supplied, and an excellent meal plan, these sporting or fishing camps were found along the shores of the Belgrade lakes by the score as late as the 1940s.

One such example that has survived since the twenties is unique Castle Island Camps on Long Pond in Belgrade Lakes. Clustered on a tiny island at the Narrows between Upper and Lower Long Pond, this group of a dozen neat white cabins and central lounge and dining hall exists much as it did seventy years ago.

"I lived here until I was seven," describes owner Horatio Castle whose father built the camp in the 1920s, "and I always wanted to come back and own it." Due to ill health, the property was sold by Castle senior to Horatio's aunt and uncle, Doris and George Weiss in 1947 and the family moved to Florida. In 1970, Horatio and his wife Valerie bought it back.

True to tradition, Castle Island has available a fleet of small motor boats for fishing, a central lounge area - rustic and cozy, a waterfront for nonanglers to relax away the day, and a dining area where three home-cooked meals are served daily, including full course dinners at night. Fishing equipment, licenses, and advice are all available for the guests, many of whom consider Castle Island home, and return year after year and generation after generation.

Like the traditional camp owners, Castle is almost always on the premises, highly visible, accessible to all the guests who are more like friends than visitors, and - along with Valerie - the chef. "Family" is a word he uses frequently to describe the feeling of the camp.

Come mid-September at Castle Island, the shutters go up and the Castles head to their winter home. But that's all part of the tradition, too. These original fishing camps were all seasonal.

Belgrade pays tribute to loons

By AARON MILLER, Staff Writer

Maine Today - Sunday, August 5, 2001

Copyright 2001 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

BELGRADE A light turnout of visitors for the first ever Loon Festival on Saturday seemed to be a perfect fit. After all, loons prefer secluded lakes.

Children swam while parents sat on blankets in the shade, cooling off from the 88-degree summer weather. Here and there, visitors strolled through the village and checked arts and crafts displayed along sidewalks.

The scene did not seem much different than any other bright summer Saturday afternoon. By sunset, however, things were expected to get a little loony.

For 20 years, loon enthusiasts have flocked to Johnson's boat landing for a competition like none other the loon calling contest. Horatio Castle, owner of Castle Island Camps and founder of the contest, said he expects about 200 people to show up at the boat landing.

"The contest is a lot of fun," said Castle. "It brings out people from all ages. It's one of the things that has stuck with the summer activities over the years."

First-, second- and third-place trophies are awarded by a panel of three judges to the best loon callers.

"They basically mimic the calls a loon makes and some people get real technical about it," Castle said.

Castle said he hasn't seen any loons swim to shore because of the callings, but he said a mother, father and baby live in a cove next to his campground.

"We had a baby born a week ago and the mother sounded off all night, announcing the birth of her newborn," he said. "We have quite a few loons here on the lake."

A loon is a type of water bird with a sleek body with a short tail and webbed feet, according to the World Book Encyclopedia. Their strange laughing calls echo over Belgrade lakes at night.

A boat parade Saturday paid tribute to the creatures, which look like a large duck when sitting on water. The leaders of that parade installed a large loon on the bow of their boat and played loud loon-like calls while floating by Day's Store.

The leaders led nine other boaters in the pack.

"Come to the bean hole supper and support the fire department," yelled one boater to some attending the festival on the shoreline.

Meanwhile, children made loon head bands at the Belgrade Lakes Center for All Seasons, while parents watched "On Golden Pond," the movie that was inspired by the area.

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