Remembering Donald Nicoll, an original friend of the Allagash and founding president of AWWF

A Tribute for Donald Eugene Nicoll — August 4, 1927 – April 3, 2024


The Allagash lost a great friend when Don Nicoll died suddenly at 96 on April 3 in Miyazaki, Japan. Nicoll had traveled to Japan with his son-in-law, Campbell Forbes, to visit his son, Hugh Nicoll, and his family. Don met Hilda Farnum, who had grown up in Japan, in 1944, and they were married on June 18, 1949. Japan was an important part of their lives. Even after Hilda’s death in 2014, Don continued to visit Hugh and his family despite an advancing age.

Don Nicoll
Founding AWWF President Don Nicoll

Don’s relationship with the Allagash began in the early 1960s, when he was serving as Senator Edmund Muskie’s legislative assistant. A plan to resurrect FDR’s New Deal Passamaquoddy Tidal Power project, linked to a major hydroelectric project on the Wolastoq/St. John and Allagash Rivers, began to make its way through the federal energy planning process. It was Don’s job to keep an eye on developments. The tidal and hydroelectric projects never came to be, but the threat of flooding the two iconic wilderness rivers set in motion the creation of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in 1966 and its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1970.

As Senator Muskie’s senior advisor, Don Nicoll was there every step of the way. He participated in the state’s negotiations for the purchase of the Waterway from area landowners, and he joined many “inspection trips” of the nascent Waterway with state Senator Elmer Violette, state Representative John Martin and others who had been involved in passing the necessary legislation to create the Waterway.

Along the way, Don fell in love with the Allagash.

The Allagash is not free from conflict and disagreements about how to preserve and protect its wilderness character. During one such moment in 2007, Governor John Baldacci appointed Don and six others to the Governor’s Working Group charged with reviewing the history of conflicts and reporting back with recommendations for action. 

After a year of public hearings, staff reports and planning meetings, the Working Group submitted its report to Governor Baldacci. Don’s fingerprints are all over the report, which included legislation to create the 7-person Allagash Wilderness Waterway Advisory Council, whose members represent areas of expertise and experience important to the management of one of the jewels in the crown of Maine’s public parks. The Working Group also recommended that the AWW Advisory Council write a strategic plan to inform future Waterway management plans. Don was appointed the first Chair of the AWW Advisory Council in 2008, and he set the group to work straight away on the writing of that strategic plan. 

John Martin and Don Nicoll – August 1982

In the early fall, 2011, I joined Don Nicoll at a meeting of another group Don had a hand in creating — the Friends of Aomori. Maine’s relationship with the prefecture of Aomori, Japan began in 1889 when a Bath-built schooner foundered and sank off the coast of Tsugaru on the Sea of Japan. As Don and Hilda had long supported the country’s post-war friendship with the people and country of Japan, Don was right there to help in 1994 when Governor Angus King worked with his counterpart in Aomori to establish the Maine-Aomori sister state relationship. As Don and I had worked together on the Working Group and the AWW Advisory Council, he recruited me upon my retirement to get involved with the sister-state relationship.

As our first meeting of the Friends of Aomori was breaking up, Don and I got to chatting about the Allagash and our work together. We agreed to meet again to think about establishing a friend’s group for the Allagash. A month later, in October 2011, we launched the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation. We recruited fellow Working Group members Dick Barringer, the former Department of Conservation Commissioner, and Brownie Carson, the Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, as well as a former National Park Service member of the Advisory Council, Bob Mcintosh, former Department of Conservation Commissioner Eliza Townsend, daughter of Clinton “Bill” Townsend who had been instrumental in the establishment of the Waterway in 1966, and Northern Forest Canoe Trail Executive Director Kate Williams.

Don was AWWF’s founding President, and from the outset he became a champion of an initiative that had been included in the Waterway’s first strategic plan —the ecological and natural heritage assessment of the Allagash. Don understood that the ecological health of the Waterway, and its resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate, is dependent on the health and ecological vitality of the entire 1.3 million-acre Allagash watershed. The recent completion of the assessment “A River in Space and Time” might be Don’s most important contribution to the Allagash.

Don Nicoll’s obituary was published on June 16, just two days before what would have been his and Hilda’s 75th wedding anniversary. Though the Allagash has lost a dear friend. Don’s many contributions to preserving and protecting its wilderness character will never be forgotten.

Don Hudson is the current president of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway Foundation.