04/18/17 Wilsons on Moosehead Lake honored as state’s top family owned business

By Stuart Hedstrom, Piscataquis Observer • April 18, 2017

BIG MOOSE TOWNSHIP — Located on the western side of the lake and known as the longest, continuously operated sporting camp in Maine, Wilsons on Moosehead Lake was recently recognized by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The establishment and its owners Alison and Scott Snell — who is a Master Maine Guide — were named as the organization’s 2017 Maine Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business of the Year and the couple will be receiving the honor on May 15 at the Maine Small Business Awards in Freeport.

“We were pretty excited,” Alison Snell said last week in the office at Wilsons on Moosehead Lake. “We just really feel like small businesses are so important in Maine, and are the whole reason why people come here.”

Snell said she and her husband are truly honored to be the award recipients. “Visitors have come to Wilsons on Moosehead Lake since 1865 to escape their hectic lives,” she said. “We are blessed to be able to connect with them personally and help them relax the ‘Moosehead’ way. They can experience seamless wild views and our dark star filled skies at night.”

“I think it’s great,” Scott Snell said, mentioning the other Maine Small Business Award recipients are located across the state with many based in southern Maine.

“We have never been to any award ceremony before so we are definitely looking forward to it,” Alison Snell said, adding that their banker nominated them for the honor.

Situated near the East Outlet of the Kennebec River at the Piscataquis/Somerset County line, about halfway between Greenville and Rockwood and just off of Route 15, Wilsons on Moosehead Lake began in 1865 when Henry I. Wilson returned from the Civil War to his home in Massachusetts and decided that he wanted to move north, away from the city, in search of an untroubled frontier.

Wilson purchased a home on the north end of Moosehead Lake, but soon became dam operator on the East Outlet. He floated his two-story house from the north end down onto the property, which stood for nearly 140 years and was the front part of the hotel facing the lake. Wilsons became a huge draw for sportsmen from all over the country, including President Ulysses S. Grant. The inn was the center of attention, staffing guides, guests and hosting a large dining area and kitchen staff. In 2004 the hotel was deemed irreparable and control-burned to the ground.

The next major figure to run the sporting camps was Alfred Wilson, with the help of his two sons Donald and Alfred J., known as Junior. While Fred and Junior Wilson were busy guiding and trapping, Don Wilson graduated from the University of Maine and then pursued an engineering career. Junior’s Wilson drowning off of Pratt’s Point in 1936 resulted in Don Wilson coming back to help run the camps.

After being passed down through four generations of the Wilson family over 109 years, the camps were sold to Wayne and Shan (Shirley) Snell, who ran the camps for 19 years before their son and his wife, Scott and Alison Snell, took over in 2002.

“In October we will have been here for a full 15 years,” Alison Snell said. In 2015 they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wilsons on Moosehead Lake.

The Snells’ three sons are all a part of the business. Their eldest son Colby, 20, is now a member of the guide fleet as he is a fourth generation Maine Guide

“They all love hunting, fishing and the outdoors,” Alison Snell said as the family includes 15-year-old Caleb and 11-year-old Cullen.

She said in the spring, summer and fall Wilsons on Moosehead Lake employs the equivalent of four to six full-time positions “and during the winter we have three to four.” Scott Snell said at its busiest the guide fleet through their East Outlet Guide & Fly Shop has five members.

“I think the best part for me is enjoying watching our guests truly relax and enjoy their vacation here with us,” Alison Snell said, as Wilsons on Moosehead Lake is open year-round to allow visitors to enjoy the various recreational opportunities coinciding with the four seasons.

“We are able to have so many people, we have so many people guest at the same time of year — it’s like family,” she said, as visitors can choose from accommodations ranging from one to five bedrooms.

“It’s all about the guests,” Scott Snell said. “In my position I get to know them a little more,” he added about guiding visitors. “They come in here and they just love it.”

“We have families that I grew up with their kids and now their kids are bringing their families,” Snell said.

The Snells said guests have come from overseas, such as New Zealand, Switzerland and the Netherlands. “I guided a guy last fall who was British Special Forces,” Scott Snell said, saying another guest was the U.S. ambassador to India.

“They don’t have to be from away, we have guests from Maine,” he added.

“How can you beat that view?,” he said pointing out the office window to the lake with a dock jutting into the water. “Twenty miles across Moosehead Lake is Mount Katahdin. On a clear day in the winter it looks like it’s right on the lake.”

“We have been steadily growing our guide business over the last several years and offer amazing adventures with a first-rate guide staff and state of the art equipment,” Alison Snell said. “Every year we upgrade cabins, the property and add more services for our guests. We are so excited about our future and look forward to building more incredible relationships and making memories with our guests. As far as our plans, just watch and see!”

For more information on Wilsons on Moosehead Lake, please go to http://www.wilsonsonmooseheadlake.com.