Princeton Rod & Gun Club
"They do a lot."
That short sentence comes up again and again when locals are asked about the charitable activities of the Princeton Rod & Gun Club. More than a hunting and fishing club, the group emphasizes wildlife conservation. Its members also work together on behalf of people in their communities, hosting benefit suppers each year, many of them benefiting local people facing tough challenges.
Most recently, the club pledged $10,000 toward the new building for Calais Regional Hospital. "We're not a rich club," says club President Jon Speed, "but we figured that through some different activities we could find a way to commit to this. It's a very worthwhile cause."
At its core, however, the Princeton Rod & Gun Club is about conservation of resources for future generations. "Our main focus is the conservation of natural resources and the proliferation of the wildlife herd and habitat," Speed says. "We also want to be good stewards of the community."
Good stewardship means preserving today’s resources for the people of tomorrow. Toward that end, the club has temporarily backed away from its regular fishing tournaments, despite their popularity, to give the fish some time to recover. “We don’t want to do that every year,” Speed says of the tournaments. “We think it’s important to have some controls on fishing and hunting so it will be there for generations to come.”
A group of local people first assembled at the old Men’s Club (Princeton Lion’s Club) to form the Princeton Rod & Gun Club in 1969, because they wanted an organization that would continue a tradition of conservation. Jon’s father, Dale Speed, was among those charter members, who met for many years at Princeton Elementary School. “We needed a group that could continue the tradition of conservation and speak, when necessary, down in Augusta,” Dale says. “It’s all volunteer, but it makes a difference if you say you are speaking for a group with two hundred and fifty members.”
In the late 1970s, the club undertook an ambitious project: fund-raising for the construction of a lodge. Georgia Pacific agreed to lease eighteen acres of land at Greenland Point on Long Lake at a dollar a year (the dollar requirement was later waived). In 1980, the club built the frame for their new lodge, and numerous local people and businesses chipped in. Dicenzo’s, Ralph Dorr, Orland Dwelley, Murray LaPlant and others hauled gravel or loaned equipment. Others donated time or construction materials. The building was later named the “F. Dale Speed Building” of the Princeton Rod and Gun Club, despite early objections from its namesake. “I vetoed the idea when they first brought it up at a meeting,” says Dale Speed. Eventually, he gave in under pressure. Since 1980, the lodge has been a popular meeting center for organizations who want a quiet place in the woods (with good food) at which to hold meetings.
In 2002 the club purchased the land outright, along with seven additional acres, from Wagner Land Management. “We own every inch of this property,” club member Philip McDowell says proudly. Furthermore, “We’ve never had a mortgage. If we didn’t have money for something, we didn’t do it.”
The land also includes a rifle range, archery targets, facilities for trap shooting, facilities for running deer, and a state-of-the-art boat landing. The boat landing was put in by the Maine Department of Conservation, which later also contributed heavily to the fund used to purchase the land for the Princeton Rod and Gun Club.
A major focus of the club is local youth. The club provides a scholarship every year to a local student who is going to college to pursue a conservation-related career. The scholarship includes a $500 core donation plus a $50.00 memoriam for any club members who have died in the past year.
Aside from the scholarship, the club has participated heavily in the Conservation Camp at the University of Maine at Machias’ (UMM’s) Greenland Point facilities. The camp, which was run up until recently by UMM, provides a pristine setting in which ten- to twelve-year-olds learn outdoor safety, the importance of conservation, and how to respect the environment. Classes are offered in archery, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, lake studies, fly-casting, forest conservation, and rifle and shotgun safety. In 2003, the Princeton Rod & Gun club paid scholarships allowing twenty students to attend the camp. In addition, club members assisted the camp with volunteer labor. Although UMM has indicated their participation in the camp will not continue after 2003, but it is expected that the program will continue next year with the support of another organization.
Among its other activities, the club has supported the Princeton Youth Field Day, one of four one-day events sponsored by the Maine Department of Inland Fish & Wildlife. At Youth Days, young people 8-15 learn outdoor skills such as shooting, trapping, hunting, fishing, survival, and ATV operation.
Princeton Rod and Gun Club members also help raise funds for Project Graduation at Woodland High School, which allows seniors to go on a class trip.
Despite its many activities, most people probably know the club for the benefit suppers it holds. For twenty or so meals a year, the club donates the use of the property and the labor spent preparing the meals. Club members, by the way, have meal preparation down to an art. The food is excellently prepared (the club even brings in special cuts of meat for beef suppers), and the kitchen crew form a rapid-fire assembly line that can feed 200 people without long waits.
Aside from serving near-legendary food, the club members use the suppers to raise funds for various causes. Some provide cash for the club to pursue its own projects, but the majority of the suppers are for community members with a special need. Many of the events are to raise money for local people with medical bills they can’t pay.
Although the charter members were all men, nearly 25% of the club’s 250 members are now women, and that percentage is increasing. For example, former Secretary Ruthie Curtis joined when she and her husband moved back to the area form Michigan nine years ago, along with many members of the local cribbage group. They now enjoy the club’s Friday night cribbage games. “Honestly, it was the social part that got me interested,” she says.
And that’s an important part of the club’s appeal. Whether dishing plates, washing dishes, or clearing tables, club members clearly enjoy each other’s company. To say they are a well-oiled machine ignores the fact that they enjoy what they do. Even for those who come only for the meal, the suppers and other meetings offer a chance to see familiar faces from as far away as Brookton and Machias.
A good way to get a feel for the club is to come to one of the benefit suppers. The club advertises them in the Calais Advertiser and on the public access crawl lines in Calais and Woodland. The club’s regular meetings are at 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month. Those who like what they see are welcome in the club, especially if they enjoy fun, good company, and working on behalf of good causes.