Maine Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps initiative, is part of a nation-wide effort to bring volunteerism and positive impact to communities throughout the US. When taking on a Term of Service, dedicated individuals who are 18+ dedicate anywhere from 300-1700 hours of volunteer capacity to identified areas of need. Once someone begins their Term of Service, the ever expanding network of Alumni continues to make valuable connections and grow.
While serving, the Alumni network is available and teeming with interest to get involved in current opportunities. Directly after completing your term, the Alumni network offers support and guidance for translating acquired skills into your next steps toward an applicable career. Lingering over the many years after your term of service, you have an open invitation to continue to be involved with palpable, positive change as a member of the AmeriCorps Alumni.
Last year I was a part of the Maine Conservation Corps’ Community Leader Program. During my last couple of months I served under Matt McGuire at Sebago Lake State Park. Sebago Lake State Park has an extensive network of day-use trails, gorgeous beaches, well maintained boat launches, camping facilities, playgrounds, and the Songo Lock State Historic site.
In addition to these diverse offerings, there is one other attraction at Sebago Lake State Park. During the summer, Interpretive Ranger Bob Hunt mans the Sebago Lake State Park Nature Center. I missed it last year because I started my service after Labor Day when the Nature Center usually closes. This year, Bob has been joined by Environmental Steward Becky Pratt.
I took some time to visit the Nature Center during this past September. I came not really knowing what to expect. When I arrived I found a shady little parking spot near one of the west campgrounds. The Nature Center was a small brown cabin with a large roofed porch. Inside I found Bob Hunt sitting at his desk: he welcomed me and told me that Becky would be along shortly.
While we waited for Becky, Bob enthusiastically gave me the full tour of the Nature Center. Bob has had his run of the place for a few years and the little building is crowded with displays of his own creation. The exhibits range from live creatures and habitats, to preserved critters, to paleontological specimens. He knows the history of the Park and its surroundings very well, and he told me stories about the park and the Nature Center’s history.
Like Mount Blue and its Nature Center, Sebago Lake State Park’s was originally a building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Sebago Lake State Park Nature Center is smaller than the Mount Blue center, but it is just as crowded with educational displays. One of the first exhibits I came to was a tank filled with water and rocks. Inside, a small black animal swam to and fro with a fluid, undulating motion. Bob informed me that this cute little animal was nothing less than a blood sucking leech!
Far from being revolted, I was fascinated by the little creature. Bob regaled me with stories of his seasonal adventures catching leeches for the display, and also spoke to the medicinal applications of the little blood sucker’s anti-coagulant.
When we reached the exhibits on trees Bob showed me examples of beaver work, a tree trunk with a huge hollow made by successive generations of nesting woodpeckers, and a massive gall from a pitch pine that once grew in the park. The best parts of this section were his “cookie calendars.” For those of you who are not savvy to “chainsaw lingo” a cookie is a circular piece of wood cut off from the end of a log or stump. Bob’s cookies came from a pine and an oak tree that fell during the ice storm of 1998. Both of the trees had been dated to the 1830s and Bob had counted and marked the rings with the dates of significant events. The trees had lived through the years of the civil war all the way up to modern times.
My favorite exhibit was at the back of the building where Bob had assembled a display of rocks and minerals. At the edge of the table there was a pair of rocks containing fossilized sea shells. Both of these rocks apparently originated near an old Dam off the Golden Road in Northern Maine. One of the fossil rocks had been chipped into several pieces by Bob’s pick, and he kept it as a puzzle for children to take apart and assemble. I could easily imagine a curious child taking it apart, and gasping in wonder as they discovered fossil covered facets. I’m in my late 20s and even I was getting a little wide eyed as I played with the stone.
The real substance of the Nature Center wasn’t the exhibits themselves, but the stories Bob could tell about them. Nearly every exhibit had a narrative. Bob impressed me as an eager and energetic story teller. I could tell that many other people felt the same way. I took a look at the Center’s guest sign-in book. Next to nearly three quarters of the names were comments like: “Bob is great,” “It was really cool talking to Bob,” and “Thanks a lot Bob!” During my visit some park visitors wandered inside and soon were lost in conversation with him.
When Becky arrived, I asked her about her own experience: “I was in the Nature Center every Sunday. In the beginning, Bob explained what everything was so I had an idea and could accurately give information to the guests. Being in the Nature Center gave me a chance to actually interact with guests, something I did not do much working on the trails.” Becky seemed as just as eager to hear Bob’s stories as the other visitors.
The Nature Center, however, was less than complete. Bob’s collection of furs and some of his park guidebooks were destroyed when the park’s main office burned down last winter. While the fire caused this material loss, between the surviving features at the Nature Center and Bob’s lighthearted storytelling, I don’t think the visitors were too disappointed.
This three part series on Nature Centers will continue next week with a visit to Ferry Beach State Park. Check it out!
Dan Muller is a Community Leader with the Maine Conservation Corps.
On August 29th, Dan presented his “Season’s Magnum Opus” to attendees at the Mount Blue Amphitheater. There was much “applause and general fanfare” when visitors watched “Project Hiking.” Project Hiking is Dan’s thirteen-minute long film about the trails of Mount Blue State Park and Tumbledown Mountain.
“To ensure that logs had sufficient water to be floated downstream, dams were built to hold back water, which was released when the time was right. Where necessary, a series of dams was constructed on long streams and the logs were floated or “driven” from pond to pond through dam after dam until they reached their destination. (Wilson, 2001)”
Understanding and learning about the logging camps was only the beginning of the story. In the Fall of the 2013, I was assigned to a new Field Team under Team Leader Amy Freund. We served in Baxter State Park, creating a reroute for Mt. OJI. During some off time in Millinocket, I connected with a former River Driver and caretaker of the Ambajesus Boom House. Chuck Harris certainly intrigued me, with his utilitarian clothes and Maine accent. We got talking about what I was doing, and he shared his history. He also invited my Team to the Boom House for some of our education hours.
We waited on the land, just below the bridge on the Golden Road that Chuck had directed us to. We heard a motor start in the distance, and after a few minutes saw a figure coming up the river. Clad in a yellow rainjacket and accompanied by a collie dog, our guide skillfully made his way upriver. Greeted in such a gallant fashion, we hopped into the boat. Along the way to the Boom House, Chuck shared his knowledge of the river, and recollected how the logs would come down.
I think I started to understand when Chuck showed us some of the tools, many of which had been found in Ambajejus Lake one year when the water was very low. He spoke about the boom chains that held together the logs, and I began to envision a circle of logs floating on the water.
In the winter the logs were hauled out upon the lake and placed as compactly together as possible. Around the mass was placed the boom—a contraption composed of largest and longest logs chained together end to end. When the ice had melted, the logs rested upon the waters of the lake, surrounded by the restraining girdle of the boom. Then, boom and all, they were towed to the outlet of the lake and sent on their way down stream (Wood, 1961).
Steamboats would take the logs from one end of the lake to the other this way. Chuck has pictures of this process in the Boom House. Acres of logs, huge islands of timber, made their pilgrimage to the sawmill in this fashion. The iron remnants told a story, but I would not have understood if not for the guide.
The log remnants I had seen as a child were explained as well. They were piers, built to guide the logs down the river. “Note the piers that hold the booms, confining logs toward shore and leaving the middle of the river free for the passage of logs to other companies farther down the river (Wilson, 2001).” There had to be some way to control the lumber coming down, and a way for those who cut it to get credit. Chuck mentioned that if all was well, the drivers would be on the shores. In the event of a jam, the men had to get to work. Sometimes it would be finding the key log with an ax, other times dynamite would do the trick. Life threatening work, many drivers lost their lives keeping the flood of spruce and fir flowing.
Should one false step be taken, a nerve falter, and eye miss its calculation, to powder would be ground the being who fell among the tumbling mass. But see the bravado of yonder Frenchman. He dances about on the logs like a cat on hot coals. There is twenty feet of water between him and the shore, and the logs are moving ten miles an hour. If he goes another hundred feet, over the next pitch he shoots and is lost. How can he escape? Look! There comes a log just outside the mass. He jumps upon it, swings his pole quicker than lightning, steers the log toward the shores, catches a hanging branch, and is jerked up the bank by his shirt-collar, by the hands of his admiring comrades (Wood, 1961).
Each operator made their mark on the logs. Some even made new marks every year, to tell the how old the wood was. “The marks were cut into the sapwood with axe or auger, and were deep enough not to wear off during the drive, but not enough to injure the timber (Wood, 1961).” For all the risks and hard work these men of the woods took, their companies wanted to be paid appropriately for the wood provided. They had costs and profits recorded right down to the penny. In 1930, the Wage Scale in the lumber camps in the Millinocket area ran from the Cookee and Feeder earning $5.00 to $7.00 per week plus board, to the Foreman who would earn $12.00 to $15.00 per week plus board (Caron, 1994). Chuck Harris related that they were usually paid at the end of the season. During the season men could get items on “credit” from the clerk, and at the end of the season they were paid and their debts taken out of what they were owed.
My time at Maine Conservation Crops helped me to gain a better understanding of the kind of work the lumberjacks did, and through the education time I became more acquainted with the history as well. Connecting the pieces from my childhood, and sparking interest that still is strong today, logging history is a little less of a mystery for me.
Caron, S. J. (1994). Lumbering in the Millinocket, Me. Area 1930 Thru 1950. Millinocket, ME: In-House Printing.
Coolidge, P. T. (1963). History of the Maine Woods. Bangor, Maine: Furbush-Roberts Printing Company, Inc.
Wilson, D. A. (2001). Logging and Lumbering in Maine. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
Wood, R. G. (1961). A History of Lumbering in Maine 1820-1861. Orono, Maine: University Press.
“A man generally recognized as a separate species, as is shown by a newspaper account of a steamboat accident in 1912, which reported that “three men and a logger were drowned.” In short, a man well worthy of our attention”-Tall Trees, Tough Men p. 53
All my life I have been fascinated with the lumber industry. I remember as a little girl seeing the “islands” out on the Kennebec between Gardiner and Augusta, and wondering what they were all about. My mom told me they were built by people, they weren’t natural, but she wasn’t sure why. I think that is kind of funny now, because she also told me stories about how she was young in Millinocket and she remembers the logs floating down the river, and the men jumping from log to log. These events are directly connected, although miles apart. Following the logs down the river, I began to understand.
During my term of service in AmeriCorps, with the Maine Conservation Corps, I was able to travel all over the State of Maine. While I have lived here my whole life, I got a whole new outlook, and much more knowledge about different areas. My first Field Team was assigned to Scopan outside of Presque Isle, cutting a new hiking trail. Coming from a fairly humdrum life, and starting a little late at 28 (most AmeriCorps members are 18-24), I was going to sink or swim at this hardworking endeavor. Running a chainsaw, pulling trees up by their roots, and swamping it all into the bushes after hiking into the site took some time to get used to. It rained every day during our first 9 day hitch, and I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Our Team Leader, Jared Ress, decided it was a good time for our weekly education hours, and we went to the Ashland Logging Museum.
We met the caretaker of the museum, who was very excited to have guests. He was very informative. There were tools everywhere, and a replica of the kind of cabin that the loggers would have stayed in when the industry first began. It was amazing to think that these people came to Maine in the winter, without roads to get places, traveling either by boat or over the snow, to work 10-12 hour days of backbreaking labor. Although fed many meals a day, and able to get warm clothing on credit even if they didn’t have the money, it is hard to imagine.
“There were no bunks and no chairs. The men ate standing, out of a common kettle. For a bed, fir and hemlock boughs were sometimes screwn on the bare ground and on these was laid a twenty-foot-wide spread stuffed six inches thick with cotton batting. When one of those things got wet, twenty men could hardly lift it. Such spreads were still being used on the drive as late as 1930. On top of the first one was spread a second, and about a dozen men crawled in between, lying spoon fashion. Those great covers were especially hard on small men sleeping in the center. If a man wanted to turn over, he cried, “Flop!” and everyone, without waking up, flopped. Old woodsmen aver that the worst thing about them was when some man would crepitate underneath them. And of course, the inevitable lice found them a favorite roosting-place.” – Tall Trees, Tough Men p. 91
The logging camps, beginning in the early 1800’s, were built as needed. The men would come up the rivers, as the river were the way to get the logs out of the woods when the time came, and find a stand of trees to manufacture the buildings out of. They did not use nails initially, they had wooden pegs. They split their own shingles, and built the whole structure from what they had available and a few tools. They would live in this structure through the whole winter. At first they used only axes, then saws, and then at the end they had available but rarely used chainsaws because they were so heavy. The men felled the trees and moved them to the waterways. Helped by teams of horses and oxen the giant trees were kept intact as much as possible. Mast trees were the most profitable; trees that were very tall and very straight made it possible to build the ships of the time. After 1880, larger organizations and corporations took hold of the industry, and from 1890 to 1910 the lumber industry reached its peak in Maine (Pike, 1967).
Next week we will follow the logs from the logging camps to the mills.
For the past few months, western states have been battling wildfires. This past June, 167 members of the California Conservation Corps assisted the US Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as they battled wildfires state wide (Novey, 2015). This is not the first time that AmeriCorps members have been involved in firefighting efforts: just last year, 69 AmeriCorps members with the Washington Conservation Corps put in more than 6,000 hours supporting firefighting camps by coordinating and distributing food, supplies, and equipment (Network, 2014).
Maine’s wildfires are pretty mild compared to those out west. According to the EPA the average number of acres each year burned per square mile in Maine was nearly ‘zero’ between 1984 and 2013. By contrast, Idaho has seen an average of 5.52 acres burn each year per square mile in the same time range (Climate Change Indicators in the United States; Wildfires, 2015).
Still wildfires do happen here. In May of this year, Maine firefighters were controlling a blaze in Lubec that burned over 200 acres of land (Hoey, 2015). The great fires of 1947 caused such significant damage that the week of October the 13th was called the “Week that Maine Burned” (Park, n.d.) (Killelea, 2012).
Exactly fifty years ago today, (August 4th, 2015) the Eric Kelley Peat Bog in Centerville, Maine, became the site of one of the largest fires in Maine’s history, burning over 12,000 acres of land (Cleaves, 1995). At the time the Eric Kelley Peat Bog was the site of peat hauling and harvesting. Workers used bulldozers, trucks, and other heavy machinery to harvest peat, which can be sold as a commodity and has several uses in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing (Bastin & David, 1909) .
On August 4th the peat on the surface of the bog had dried into a dust due to the hot weather and lack of precipitation. It was the perfect condition for a fire to start and spread (Decoster, 1965). All it took was a spark from the exhaust of one of the “Bog Buggies” to ignite the peat dust. The vehicle lacked a muffler and “back-fired” while hauling peat (Cleaves, 1995). Like the fires of 1947, the Centerville Forest Fire preceded legislation aimed at protecting public safety. In weeks following the blaze, the State of Maine passed a new regulation requiring that power equipment not be operated in the woods unless equipped with mufflers and spark arresters (Decoster, 1965).
The workers at the bog first noticed the fire around 10:30 am, and called for assistance from the the fire-tower watchman at Mitten Mountain. The tower watchmen referred the call to Forest Rangers David Grant and Luther Davis of Cherryfield. Grant arrived with Indian Fire Pumps which workers used to try to control the fire. (Decoster, 1965)
The fire spread rapidly due to the dry conditions and 18 mph winds. What had been 2.5 acres at 2pm reached 300-400 acres by nightfall. The Centerville forest fire spread for approximately five days, jumping the Machias River, and a section of Route 192 between the towns of Weaslely and Machias. The number of men involved in the firefighting operation reached over 700 individuals by August 7th. From the beginning there was a scarcity of trained firefighters. Groups from Bucks Harbor, Dow Air Force Base, and Maine Maritime Academy, the Outward Bound School as well as “floods of individual volunteers” joined the effort. These volunteers were a diverse group, which included white collar office workers and experienced woodsmen (Decoster, 1965).
The coordination and cooperation in response to this fire was due in no small part to the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission (About the NFFPC, n.d.). This commission was established by the United States Congress in 1949 and was originally composed of Maine and six other New England States (Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact, n.d.). Governor John H. Reed attributed this act to an idea that was first conceived of by New England Governors in response to the great forest fires of 1947.(Decoster, 1965)
Several agencies collaborated with the Forest Service to control the Centerville Forest Fire. Robert Wright of the St. Regis Paper Company joined the effort as a sector boss on the fire lines. His efforts enlisted the Maine Central Rail Road Company’s assistance in transporting firefighters. (Cleaves, 1995)
The Washington County branch of US Civil Defense supported the effort by setting up a mobile feeding station to provide meals to firefighters. The unit was staffed by Mrs. Sara Wilson, the Washington County Home Demonstration Agent. Lodging was also handled by Civil Defense which provided cots and blankets. (Decoster, 1965)
Other agencies joined the effort by supporting the firefighting operation with services and supplies. The State Police cooperated in the requirements of moving permits, escorting heavy equipment and blocking roads leading to the fire. The Maine Highway Commission provided $15,000 in free services and forestry companies provided heavy equipment free of charge (Decoster, 1965).
Fire fighters created a 34 mile long perimeter free of combustible materials called a “fire line.” Fire lines help to contain fires by creating a gap that a fire must jump across in order to spread. Along the perimeter men suppressed the fire with pumps, tank trucks, and hose . Building the fire line required the use of bulldozers and other heavy machinery, which proved difficult to transport across the uneven terrain. Centerville is known not just for bogs but also large boulders and steep ledge, all of which posed challenge to moving heavy equipment (Decoster, 1965).
Five different airplanes were employed to control the Centerville Forest fire. Canadian Casos planes with 940 gallon drop tanks flew in from Quebec and were used to drop water on the fire from above. Two small “Beaver” float planes with 125 gallon tanks were used to douse spot fires caused by windblown embers. If these little second fires had grown out of control the firefighting effort could have been considerably bigger and more costly. (Decoster, 1965). The participation of Canadian pilots and planes preceded the membership of Quebec in the North Eastern Forest Fire Compact (About the NFFPC: History n.d.).
By the end of the 4th day, August 7th, the Organized Towns involved in the effort were running out of spare equipment and city fire departments began contributing their own supplies to the effort. This was the turning point where firefighters began to gain the upper hand. The fire’s once rapid spread had begun to slow as it started spreading into wetter areas. On August 8th crews had completely enclosed the area with fire lines and by the next day the fire was under control. From August 9th onward the weather cooled and the risk of the fire reigniting was low due to fog and precipitation. On Friday, August 13th, demobilization began. Mopping up after the fire was a lengthy process, lasting well into September. Forest Rangers and 14 men continued to patrol the area for weeks and the last smoke was reported on October 3rd. (Decoster, 1965)
In the aftermath of the fire a board of review was assembled by the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission. The board’s purpose was summed up in a statement by Ed Peltier of the U.S. Forest Service; “We have to be especially critical on a board of review, comparing human endeavor and human efforts with an ideal, striving to improve the practices.” (Decoster, 1965) A report was prepared by Lester A. DeCoster, the assistant to the information and education supervisor of the Maine Forest Service. The report contained maps, day by day accounts, photographs of the firefighting effort, and transcripts of question and answer sessions with the board and observers.
The effects of the fire were big but no lives were reported lost. Of the more than 12,000 acres burned St. Regis Paper Company lost an estimated 8,000 acres of young spruce-fir forest. The Georgia-Pacific Corporation lost an estimated 2,100 acres of woodland and 70 cords of already harvested wood. Two small hunting camps were destroyed and 25 workers were injured in the fire. Most injuries included abrasions, strained backs, sprains, and injuries due to lack of proper footwear. Only one serious accident occurred when a bulldozer operator was struck by a spring pole, breaking several ribs. (Decoster, 1965).
The timely and large scale response to the Centerville Forest fire owes a great deal to the policies set forth after the great fires of 1947. The effort to control it represented a feat of both interstate and international cooperation as well as a successful application of volunteer and national service. This day, August 4th, 2015, is exactly 50 years after this eventful fire. We should remember the role that service played in responding to the Centerville Forest Fire and ask ourselves what we would have done if we had been there.