Maine is much more than its coast. The Western Lakes region consists of fabulous ski areas, the twin cities of Lewiston-Auburn, and endless lakes. With three counties including Oxford, Franklin, and Androscoggin, this area is as varied as the mountains, lakes, rivers, and cities that reside within it.
Oxford County sits smack in the middle of Maine’s western mountains, and part of the White Mountain National Forest is located in this region, as are lovely lakes, ski areas, and resorts that draw tourists year-round. Bethel, called the classic New England village by many, is nestled in the Oxford Hills along the Androscoggin River. About 2,411 people live in Bethel’s pretty old homes and farms. Close by is the Sunday River Ski Resort and the Sunday River Bridge, one of the most photographed covered bridges in the state. The foreign-sounding Maine towns of Norway (4,765), Mexico (2,881), Denmark (1,004), Sweden (324), and Paris (4,969) are all located in Oxford County.
Rumford, with a population of nearly seven thousand, is the largest community in Oxford County and the home of Mead Publishing Paper Division, a massive paper mill. Rumford has a ninety-seven-bed community hospital, as well as the small Black Mountain ski area. Rumford and nearby Mexico are part of the scenic River Valley, so named because it is where the Androscoggin and Swift rivers converge.
Franklin County rises from the central upland portion of Maine to a more mountainous region in the north. In population, Franklin is one of the state’s smaller counties — about 29,927 people living in twenty-two towns and plantations. There are no cities in Franklin County, and Farmington, a town of 7,557 people with a University of Maine campus, is the county’s shiretown and commercial hub. The University of Maine at Farmington was Maine’s first public institution of higher education and was recently chosen one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Known for its brick downtown and quick access to the woods, Farmington is also enjoying a quiet renaissance as a retirement center.
Beautiful and unspoiled, Franklin County is an important center for tourism. Here you’ll find many outdoor recreational areas, including Carrabassett Valley, home of Sugarloaf/USA, a popular ski mountain; Saddleback Mountain; the Bigelow mountains; and more than a hundred lakes and ponds, including those in the magnificent Rangeley lakes region. Franklin County straddles two major watersheds, with the Dead, Carrabassett, and Sandy rivers draining into the Kennebec River, and the Rangeley lakes pouring westward into the Androscoggin. Rangeley Lake alone is 149 feet deep. The town of Rangeley is a nifty place, with a bustling downtown, remarkable mountain vistas, and easy access to the lakes. It’s easy to understand why it was one of Maine’s earliest resort areas.
Towns in Franklin County include Wilton, population about four thousand — home of the only fiddlehead canning factory in the country as well as lovely Wilson Lake — and Weld, a small community of four hundred or so, site of eight-mile-long Webb Lake, and stunning Mount Blue State Park, where the peaks climb and the water is clear.
The south-central county of Androscoggin, with 106,815 residents, is named for the state’s third-largest river. Although its waters were once so toxic that the river was said to glow in places, the Androscoggin is now the healthiest it has been in a century and is a prime spot for kayak and canoe enthusiasts, some of whom paddle in the Great Falls Canoe Race held each June.The Androscoggin winds through the county’s two biggest cities, Lewiston, home of Bates College, and Auburn. The friendly burgs are so entwined they share two nicknames — L-A and the Twin Cities — and they rival Portland in their combined size and economic importance. Auburn is a city of about 23,203 people, while 35,234 or so folks call Lewiston home.Lewiston and Auburn are busy centers of commerce and cultural activities, favored by many companies because of their prime location, which is nearly smack in the middle of the most populous part of Maine. Once an industrial area full of mills and factories, which attracted a large French-Canadian population, the pair enjoyed a great rebirth in the late nineties, retrofitting office centers into those old mills and attracting new businesses of all sorts. Though they are bustling, the Twin Cities are ringed with bucolic villages, among them Leeds (2,000), Poland (5,324), and Turner (5,555), and they are only an hour or so from the heart of the western mountains. Androscoggin County is also dotted with crystal-clear lakes, ponds, rivers, and brooks, including Lake Auburn. Nearby Lost Valley is a popular ski area once the snow flies.
Lake Region's first brew pub handcrafting the freshest brews and the finest food in the casual atmosphere of a turn of the century Victorian farmhouse. Bray's offers an everchanging array of small batch ales. Serving Lunch & Dinner with chalkboard specials. Open Daily, Year Round. Live entertainment weekends.
Naples, ME 04055
Sometimes even bottled water can’t quench a thirst.
Handicapped skiers end up the big winners when firefighters compete in one of Maine’s most hilarious winter contests.
You never know when — or where — you’ll meet your future spouse.
Skijoring is a thrill for skiers and spectators alike.
A quiet river valley serves as the gateway to Saddleback and the Rangeley region. Most travelers pass through without stopping, but the historic villages along the Sandy River have their own unique stories worth hearing.
An RV carrying a dedicated team of hygienists travels from school to school on a mission to bring dental care to some of the state’s neediest children.
Lewiston cops aren’t the only fans of the Taste of Three One Café and its culinary influences.
Photograph by Greg Currier
Excerpted from Designing the Maine Landscape by Theresa Mattor and Lucie Teegarden; Down East Books; hardcover; 216 pages; $50.
Poland Spring Resort and Golf Course
Leisure in the genteel tradition.