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Lake Megantic is little-known outside of eastern Quebec, but its recreational reputation is growing. The 6500-plus acre lake garnered little common awareness after its discovery in 1646 by Father Gabriel Druillettes, except for Benedict Arnold's use of the lake and north-flowing Chaudiere River to attack Quebec City in 1775. Due to its inaccessibility on the northern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, the lake didn't see much European settlement until the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway. CPR built the final section of its transcontinental railway along the lake's eastern shore. Hundreds of thousands of new immigrants passed within sight of Lac Megantic on their way west into the Canadian plains and the United States by train. Source of the important Chaudiere River, the lake soon supported the small town of Lac Megantic at the river outlet. The local population centered around fishing, logging and granite-quarrying for many years until tourists discovered its ample charms.
Lake Megantic, locally known as Lac Megantic, has become one of the most popular places in eastern Quebec to enjoy water sports, camping, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and nature observation. The City of Lac Megantic is the largest town along the lake, but the villages of Marston, Frontenac and Piopolis also command sections of the nearly 30-mile shoreline. Several campgrounds and municipal and public beaches offer excellent swimming and access to the water. Long, narrow and deep, Lake Megantic is what is referred to as a 'finger lake', a body of water left in a valley after glaciers receded from the area. The lake averages about 2 miles in width, allowing Piopolis to become internationally-known as the site of open swimming competitions. In 2012, the Provincial Government of Quebec supported the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup-Lac-Megantic event here. Registration for the 2013 International Crossing of Lake Megantic, an annual event for professional open-water swimmers, is currently underway.
One need not be a world-class swimmer to enjoy the lovely beaches of Lake Megantic, however. A beautiful recreational facility near the City of Lac Megantic offers an excellent sand beach, over 300 campsites, an aerial treetop zip-line course, sailing school, boat launch, picnic and playground areas, and even Wi-Fi internet access in some areas. Room rentals and cabins are available here. The largest marina in eastern Quebec is located on the lake and has room for over 100 boats to berth. The City of Lac Megantic has developed a variety of amenities attractive to tourists and has become a favorite place for a winter sports vacation. A number of locations offer downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding excursions, snowmobile trails, and winter camping. Lac Megantic also sports an 18-hole golf course, large upscale mall, many inns, rental chalets, private guest rentals, hotel rooms, guest cottages and nightlife. An annual Winter Carnival gives the opportunity to enjoy such amusements as a golf tournament on the ice, ice soccer, torch-lit cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and general all-around fun for all ages. A summer family event enjoyed by many visitors is the 48-km Grand Tour of Lac Megantic, a cycling tour of the lake.
Many miles of hiking and nature trails circle the lake and nearby mountains. Several trails are designed for mountain bikes, including one that encourages bike camping and provides both tent platforms and rough cabins available by reservation. Some of the small bays are popular with fishermen who come seeking lake trout, splake, landlocked salmon, char, walleye, pike, muskellunge, bass and other common species of fish. Victory Bay, in the town of Marston, is known as one of the best areas for both summer fishing and ice fishing. Small boats can be rented here, and the village businesses are always eager to supply visitors with fishing advice. Some commercial fishing still occurs here. In fact, the name Megantic comes from an Abenaki word meaning either 'place of the salmon trout' or 'where the fish gather'.
Megantic National Park surrounding nearby Mount Megantic attracts international visitors to its observatory featuring the most powerful telescopes in North America. The Discovery and Visitors Centre offers interpretive exhibits, a public observatory, and a nearby ASTROLab-an astronomy activity center. Mount Megantic is the first International Dark Sky Reserve, set in a unique landscape of granite outcroppings, ancient worn peaks, and unusual geological features. The Park is filled with hiking trails often used for snowshoeing. In winter a shuttle is available to take visitors to the top of Mount Megantic so they can snowshoe the three-and-a-half miles downhill with ease.
A natural lake, history records that Lake Megantic was first dammed at the outlet to the Chaudiere River in 1893, likely to facilitate log transportation. The dam served to stabilize water levels somewhat higher than they had been previously. A later dam in the 1920s provided hydroelectric power to the area. A dam still exists at the outlet but apparently no longer is used for power generation. It instead joins many other dams along the Chaudiere River in regulating water flow and acting as storage for the large hydroelectric plant near Quebec City. A network of valleys gather water from the surrounding mountainous forests, creating an important wetland at the south end of the lake and a natural stopping point for waterfowl and birds. Located less than five miles from the US border, much of the water thus drains from nearby Maine. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of human habitation that appears to be the earliest in Quebec at the lake's southern end, proving the lake sheltered and fed human inhabitants well over 12,000 years ago.
Less than 120 miles from both Quebec City and the popular Trois-Revieres area on the St. Lawrence River, Lake Megantic is easy to reach via modern roads that make quick work of the mountainous terrain that formerly prevented access. These foothill lands are the perfect backdrop for a scenic vacation including both woods and water. A vacation here can include nearly any activity one desires, whether it involves adventure, learning, water sports or serene nature observance. Whatever your favorite activity, even if it means spending evenings around a quiet campfire, you can indulge it at Lake Megantic.
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