The Woodie Wheaton Land Trust (WWLT) traces its beginnings back to 1994, when a small group of local Maine Fishing Guides in Forest City, Maine, shared a passion for keeping the natural landscape of where they lived and worked intact. This passion was embraced by others from near and far, who also shared a deep appreciation for the scenic and mostly unbroken shorelines, and pristine waters of the Chiputneticook Lakes region.
With growing support, the WWLT, a 501c3 charitable organization, was officially formed in 1996 and named after famed Maine Guide, Woodie Wheaton. Woodie opened Wheaton’s Lodge in the early 1950s, on the shores of East Grand Lake and brought many sportsmen to this rugged and breathtaking region to test their skill on landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, and white perch. His 68-year guiding tradition allowed for intimate exposure to the natural beauty and character of the area. Woodie had a deep appreciation for this pristine part of the world and showed dedicated concern for its future.
WWLT completed its first fee purchase in 1996 after founders witnessed a floatplane land on Spednic Lake and place a “For Sale” sign on Birch Island and Little Bitch Island, the “crown jewels” of the lake. There had been growing concern that Spednic Lake and the region could be lost to the pressures of the ever-encroaching world. However, with the thought of the heart and soul of the watershed being For Sale, this meant immediate action needed to be taken. WWLT completed a 25-acre fee purchase of Birch Island and Little Birch Island, which was later conveyed to the State of Maine with restrictive deed covenants.
About Woodie Wheaton, Registered Maine Guide
Woodie Wheaton, 80, who died recently was one of the finest men I ever knew. My friendship with him persisted for nearly 40 years. It was kind of a thing that, even though we might not see each other for a year or two, we could pick right up where we left off.
Here was a man of vast erudition, able to converse easily with the world's great physicians, the flashier sporting crowd, and if need be, mathematicians. That was his job, making the simple sport of fishing a pastime that the average person could enjoy and understand.
He did it superlatively well, and watching him in operation, I learned much about the game that has become an art form.
Grand Lake Stream, where Woodie rests, is a lovely little Maine village with a broad main road which tunnels beneath arching maples shading the homes of a quiet, unostentatious citizenry, Woodie's neighbors.
The day he was put to rest, another long-time Grand Lake Stream fixture, 84-year-old Earl Bonness, quite correctly said it for all of us: "Woodie had no peers!" meaning his lifelong guiding colleague was one of a kind.
Since his death, there have been many things said of Woodie, the gentlemen of the outdoors, the man of scholarly curiosities, the man of shy dignity, the friendly man of gentle charm, the man of letters, the man of family and church.
But when I think of Woodie, I think of camp fires, Grand Laker canoes, smallmouth bass, of Spednic Lake, of wild ducks wedging across leaden skies, of whistling woodcock, of whitetail deer, all things of my dear old friend's lifestyle.
I'll remember Woodie, a stocky, powerful figure, felt hat rakishly cocked over the right eye, paddle in hand and joyously laughing when a two-pound fish outsmarted a 240-pound man holding a $100 rod.
Until his death recently, Woodie ranked among the grandest of old Maine Guides. He is remembered for recounting old stories on water and woods, the thrilling note that crept into his voice when talk turned to bass fishing, the rich chuckle that rolled up from the diaphragm at jokes made by others with himself made the butt.
One of his three sons, Dale, choked on the words when he spoke about the man everyone called Woodie: "He was our hero. The way we fished, cooked, paddled a canoe, swung an axe. Our perspective in life and the fun we had is the way Woodie showed us. He was the mentor to generations of guides, he was our benchmark. We measured our success and failures with respect to the way 'Woodie would have done it.' If we made a paddle, or a decision, we judged the act onthe basis of Woodie's critique."
Yet, Woodie was a gentle man. I saw him, time and again, take an inexperienced guide by the hand and almost literally drill him in how to ply his chosen trade. He had infinite patience with younger men, and he spoke from a vast reservoir of experience gained from his boyhood. But he had little patience with the pompous and overbearing.
Woodie Wheaton never got beyond the 10th grade in school, yet he was an incredible book worm. He read six to eight books per week — that's correct, six to eight per week. And Woodie was a traveler. Accompanied by his ever-devoted wife, Ruthe, the two visited every U. S. state save Hawaii, all Canadian Provinces except Newfoundland and went sightseeing in Mexico, Greece, Germany and England.
This was no ordinary man who left us the happy memories.
Yet, like others who have ranged widely, he was essentially a simple, warmhearted man who, until the very end, kept up his relentless hunt for new, interesting things. If the average man uses 10 percent of his cerebral equipment, I would give Woodie about 90 percent.
Woodie died in Ruthe's arms, literally. He was stricken with Ruthe at his side. So swiftly does the end come. The world was Woodie's oyster, and he surveyed it with zest. I'll wager if he happened to have seen his obituary with the words "coronary thrombosis," he would have muttered to himself that there must be a better, simpler, more understandable way of saying that.
Woodie now rests beside the stream and lake he fished as a boy, West Grand, where he obtained his first guide's license 68 years ago. What a full life he lived. In many ways it was the equivalent of at least two lives.
So it is hard to say"so long" to this particular old teacher and friend, one of the grandest of old Maine guides.
Bud Leavitt, outdoor writer for the Bangor Daily News, 1991