Monday, April 14, 2014

Red River Camps Owner Jen Brophy - Interview

Nestled deep within the northern Maine forest, in the low-lying, rugged mountains of Aroostook County, Red River Camps provides visitors with the perfect base of operations for those looking to fish, hunt or simply explore this beautiful wilderness area. 

To better understand the unique history surrounding the camps and the wide variety of activities available, I conducted the following interview with Red River Camps owner and operator Jen Brophy . . . enjoy!

Jen Brophy - Owner, Red River Camps
Rabid - How long have the camps been in your family? Are you the 3rd generation of ownership? 

Jen - I’m the second generation of the Brophy family to own Red River. Before I was born, my father worked as a guide for the previous owner, and he agreed to “take care of the camps for a year” while the previous owner offered it for sale. My mom agreed to accompany him, and the rest is history. I was less than a year old when we moved in, so it’s always been a very special part of my world.

Rabid - What for you would be a perfect day spent at Red River Camps? Do you make picnic lunches for guests to take on their various adventures? 

Jen - I’m an avid hiker, so a perfect day in the Deboullie Township for me includes a ten-mile hike that takes in nine different ponds, three mountains, sheer rocky cliffs, and a waterfall or two. (The State of Maine has expanded the trail network around Red River to include almost thirty miles of trails, and many of them are accessible as loops directly from Red River.) After working up a good sweat while hiking, a quick dip in Island Pond (and a swim out to the rock pile) make a great cool-down, and then it’s time to enjoy Gloria’s home cooking and get back out on Island pond for some evening fishing while the sun sets over Whitman Ridge.

Rabid -  Any funny outdoor stories you would like to share? 

Jen - When I was twelve, my grandmother visited Red River, which was a treat for all of us. To show her around, we decided to take a hike to the rock slide at the base of Deboullie Mountain. Back then, the trails were quite rough, and the two- to three-mile walk from Camp took a while, especially when it was a family affair. My grandmother was from suburban Rhode Island (a state one-fifth the size of Aroostook County!), and we had just passed the ice caves, about three-quarters of the way to the rock slide, when she turned to my mom and very innocently asked: “Am I going to need my passport?”

Rabid -  Favorite evening meal served at Red River? Do you have any “signature” dishes? 

Jen - Everything we serve is homemade, and Gloria’s salmon dinner is a favorite among guests. We usually serve it with roasted mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and summer squash, peas in basil cream sauce, and honey brown bread. I, myself, enjoy baking desserts, so I love discovering that guests are having a birthday at Camp and surprising them with a personalized birthday cake. Chocolate with my secret-recipe peanut butter fondant is a perennial favorite. (Last year, we surprised a long-time lobsternan with a lobster-trap cake, and we created an edible map of Island Pond for the family reunion of a previous owner.)

Rabid -  Provide a little background about yourself…who is Jen Brophy? 

Jen - I’m a Jen-of-All-Trades who focuses a lot of my time and energy on lots of things related to water and the woods. In addition to running Red River (which includes marketing, public relations, cooking, cleaning, plumbing, electrical work, gas work, and carpentry), I’m also a registered Maine guide and a professional engineer. As an engineer, I specialize in solving designing stream and wetland restoration projects through my consulting firm, Water’s Edge Ecological Engineering, and I also teach an engineering class at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics during the winter months. Guests often ask me how often I get out fishing. I’m always sad to respond, “when I have time.” Time is often short for fishing in between running Red River, practicing engineering, hiking, trail running, paddling, and practicing photography. Having so many hobbies has been a great benefit, though, as we’ve noticed that our clientele has been subtly shifting to include more and more families, hikers, and other vacationers. Guiding photographers to capture great sunrises, for instance, is something we can offer to folks who want to supplement their fishing vacation.

Rabid - Where can you go to see moose? 

Jen - Often, the best place to find moose in the Deboullie Township is right behind the island on our home pond! Every summer, we have at least one cow and calf who feed on the back side of our pond regularly. Most years, they also like to feed in the shallow water right in front of the lodge. Even after living here for so long, it’s still thrilling to sit on the deck and take photos of them from only ten feet away.

Rabid - Unique events at the Camps? 

Jen - Every year, we host at least one “big event” that takes over the entire facility, such as a family reunion, wedding, or company retreat. We love planning special meals (and desserts, of course) for big events. As a side note, I also play the Celtic harp, and I’ve had the pleasure of not only making wedding cakes but also providing music for wedding ceremonies. Every season at Red River brings something unique!

Rabid - When is your favorite time of year?

Jen - I’m always looking toward the future, so my favorite time of year is “whichever comes next”! In January, I’m dreaming about my first trip in to Red River (which usually happens in May and ends up with me snowshoeing the last mile or so). In May, I look forward to gardening, hiking, and swimming. In July, I start dreaming about fall color and brisk nights. And in October, I’m exhausted and ready for a little bit of a break. Red River has always been my favorite place in the world, and when you get to live a life you love, it’s easy to find the good in every season and all but the worst situations.

Rabid - What is your plan for the future for the camps? 

Jen - Since I took over Red River in 2009, we’ve built a brand new main lodge, and we’ve been renovating our cabins to preserve and enhance their rustic charm. I’d like to finish the cabin and landscaping renovations in the next few years and then focus on bringing the best North Maine Woods experience to as many people as I can. If I could dream big, I’d love for Red River to help remove “nature deficit disorder” from the list of ailments we see in both children and adults nowadays.

Rabid - What is your favorite cabin to stay in? 

Jen - Our pond is home to a one-acre island, and our Island cabin is a favorite of everyone, including me. Built in 1886, the cabin is the original building on the Red River complex, and it’s been wonderfully preserved over the years. The cabin includes a large main room with a two-story cathedral ceiling and a two-story stone fireplace that takes up the majority of one wall and cost $1,500 when the cabin was built. The main room is so impressive that the cabin was historically used as a dance hall (complete with piano) instead of a sleeping cabin. The Island cabin, which has its own kitchen and bathroom, can sleep eight guests in a master bedroom, a set of bunkbeds, and a sleeping loft with four beds. The loft, tucked at the top of a set of stairs almost as steep as a ladder, is reminiscent of a treehouse as the sunlight filters through tall spruce and pine before hitting the windows. Porches on the front and back of the cabin and renovations throughout make it one of our coziest and most popular. The lodge (a 5- to 10-minute paddle from the island) is visible through the trees from the front porch, and only woods and wildlife are visible from the back. I often joke that I’m going to move out to the island and rent out my house (originally the camp’s schoolhouse) instead. In a perfect world, we’d all have our own private island.

For more information or to organize your stay at Red River Camps please call 207-554-2402 or email Also check them out on Facebook!

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