Maine Conservation Corps Puts Citizenship & Service in Action
The Maine Conservation Corps (MCC) led a diverse group of volunteers to add donated warm winter clothing within the Augusta Community Warming Center (AWC) to be distributed through Addie’s Attic. United in volunteer service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, on January 16th MCC’s volunteers were joined by hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country on this national day of service.
AWC, an initiative of United Way of Kennebec Valley, is housed as part of a community resources hub within St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Almost completely volunteer driven, an ongoing collaboration of several programs offers hygiene products, a food bank of both fresh and nonperishable items, clothing for all ages as well as a safe space for coffee and conversation, all under one roof. The essence of volunteerism keeps a cycle of giving present, as these essentials are continuously collected and connected with those in need.
The MLK Day of Service hosted by MCC enhanced the importance of providing warm winter clothing through AWC as well as Addie’s Attic, a year-round program within the resource hub, run solely on donated clothing items. MLK Day donations were collected from community placed boxes at Camden National Bank, CMP, Doc Hollandaise Restaurant, Penney Memorial Church, Hannaford as well as the MCC main office in support of this effort.
Volunteerism is a constant within the walls of St. Mark’s, and was heightened with the presence of MCC serving in an array of roles. As a day of reflection, connection and gratitude, MCC also offered a chance for those receiving warm clothing to hand-write a thank you card to any of the various organizations or volunteers involved. With neighbors helping neighbors and the presence of collaboration, it was both a heart-warming and overall warming experience, on the MLK Day of Service.
“Today we answer Dr. King’s call to serve and are making a difference in the lives of those in need,” said Jo Orlando the Director of MCC “A resourceful way to meet local needs, volunteer service is a powerful tool that unites us around a common purpose and builds strong communities. We are putting the core American principles of citizenship and service into action.”
Volunteers varied from High School Students, Veterans, Community Members, Families and MCC Alumni, who spent the Day of Service collecting community-wide donations, sorting, organizing and creating accessibility to warm winter wear in Maine. With over 500 articles of clothing made available for individuals and families, there were 160 winter hats, 75 jackets of varying sizes and 72 pairs of new warm socks. Through these collaborative contributions of donated items and volunteerism, we were reminded how service for others can bring us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved and connected community.
The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that leads the annual MLK Day of Service. National Days of Service provide Americans with an opportunity to join neighbors and local leaders to tackle community challenges and strengthen the nation.
For more information, visit NationalService.gov or contact Heather Rose for upcoming Volunteer opportunities within MCC at MConsCorps.VOC@maine.gov
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.
We love hearing from our Alumni! For this blog post we are putting a spotlight on MCC Alum Lucien Langlois! He was an AmeriCorps Environmental Steward in 2015 and served a 900hr term of service (May to November) at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Augusta. Lucien is now working at the DEP as an Environmental Specialist II!
How has your experience with the Maine Conservation Corps helped your career?
As an environmental steward, I gained insight into state agencies and made contacts in various fields. After my term with MCC was finished, I had more clear objectives for my career goals. I use skills that I learned at my host site in my current job.
What is your favorite memory from your time with MCC?
My favorite MCC event was the volunteer event that Portland DEP Environmental Steward Ling Rao coordinated. Environmental stewards and trail team members from MCC, DEP staff, and the public came together to help clean Bear Brook. We had a huge mountain of tires at the end of the day. At my host site I got to work with Leon Tsomides and Tom Danielson, which was always fun and a great learning experience. Thanks to Leon and Tom I was involved in many educational events throughout my term. Bug Maine-ia was my favorite event. We helped elementary age children identify aquatic insects and learn about stream ecology.
What is the most important skill or lesson you learned during your time with MCC?
I wasn’t exactly sure what I should after college. MCC gave me an opportunity to expand my skills in volunteer management, work with people in the environmental field, and grow as an individual, while having fun along the way. I’d like to thank MCC staff Krista, Deidrah, Sara and Jo for all their time and support!
On Friday April 22nd, thirty volunteers came together to celebrate Earth Day at the Boyd Street Urban Farm in Portland. This event was a collaboration between the Maine Conservation Corps and Cultivating Community. The mission of Cultivating Community is to create and sustain greater access to healthy local foods. Their hope is to empower people to play a role in restoring the local sustainable food system.
Throughout the day, volunteers completed a variety of projects: creating pathways in the garden, mulching, trimming raspberry bushes, cleaning out the tool shed, painting signs, etc. There was plenty to do and luckily the rain held off! See a before and after picture of the garden below.
Kelley Reardon, an AmeriCorps Environmental Steward with the Maine Conservation Corps, coordinated this event with Cultivating Community. “I wanted to do an event with Cultivating Community because I think nutrition and sustainable food sources is crucial for any community. These gardens are a great way to bring people together. We all have something in common- we all need food. “
Starbucks and IDEXX employees were among the volunteer who attended. Kathi Shibles of Starbucks said “Our CEO, Howard Schulte, is amazing and believes giving back is more important than business. April is community service month, and Starbucks employees are attending thousands of community service events across the country. We enjoy taking care of people who take care of us.” June Hamlin of IDEXX said “IDEXX gives employees two give days. It is a great getting the chance to help, and have the support from your company to give back.” Thank you for choosing to spend your day with us!
Lily Chaleff is a Food Corps member serving with Cultivating Community. She focuses on school gardens and connecting youth with healthy food. She explained that the Boyd St Urban Farms supports the Youth Growers program during the summer. Youth Growers are high school students who help run the garden. They harvest the food and deliver it to the surrounding elderly community. She was excited to see so many volunteers come out to help get the garden ready for the season. “So many people have come ready to work. Everyone was invested mentally and ready to make the garden the best version of itself”
The Corporation for National and Community Service’s monthly theme for April is Environmental Stewardship. To Kelley Reardon, “environmental stewardship means helping to cultivate an appreciation of nature and conservation in your community and within yourself. It is working towards creating a more sustainable environment for the future.” After today’s event, we hope people will be inspired to become environmental stewards in their own community.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport, ME has been a host site for the Maine Conservation Corps for thirty years. In this interview, Park Manager Andy Hutchinson talks about trail work, environmental education outreach, and the role of MCC at state parks.
Interview by Hannah Colbert, currently serving a second 1700-hour term of service at Wolfe’s Neck Woods, a position that balances environmental education and trail maintenance. Wolfe’s Neck Woods has five miles of trail and about 70,000 visitors per year. It offers numerous environmental education programs, including free field trips for Maine schools and guided nature tours weekly in the winter, on weekends in the spring and fall, and daily in the summer.
How did the park first become involved with the Maine Conservation Corps?
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park has been working with the Maine Conservation Corps almost since its inception. I’ve been here for 30 years, and the MCC recently had their 30th anniversary, and we’ve had field teams here almost every year since it started. There were only two years in which we haven’t had a team here. We’ve also had environmental educators and environmental stewards here since 2012. That was the first year it was offered.
How have you been involved with the Maine Conservation Corps?
I was a park ranger when I first worked as a technical supervisor to the Field Team. John Cooke was managing the park at the time. The team would work here for one or two weeks during the summer months. I was a park ranger for four years, and when I became manager in 1990 I became the person who either recruited the Field Teams or was the technical supervisor, depending on the time of year. I would always be there to work with them and communicate with them about the project.
Andy was informally but unanimously voted “best host site sponsor ever” by last year’s November field team, after bringing food and hot drinks to the work site.
How did the park find out about the Maine Conservation Corps?
I think it was brought to our attention by our supervisors in the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The Maine Conservation Corps wasn’t under the same bureau at the time—it was a separate program, but we were still closely tied to them. A lot of the projects that the Maine Conservation Corps continues to do are with the state parks.
How much of the trail work at Wolfe’s Neck Woods has MCC done?
We tend to do the routine maintenance and small trail projects that we have time for. It’s really a function of staff and availability, and we don’t have that luxury, since we have a pretty small budget and a small staff. We generally use the Maine Conservation Corps to do major trail work projects like log bridges, water bars, cutting and filling trails, and a lot of rock work, like rock walkways and rock steps. We’ve been transitioning all our water bars to rock; originally they were log back in the day, but we quickly figured out they didn’t last very long.
What are some of the most memorable projects that the trail teams worked on?
(Laughs) About six or seven years ago, we had a crew that was putting the paved rock walkway on the Casco Bay Trail. There’s a major gully that’s part of that too, and they built a large rock culvert. I can still picture that crew in the gully, up to their hips in mud. It was a very wet time to be working there, and they had to lift up these huge rocks for culvert support and the huge rock slab that’s now part of that walkway. Those are probably the most impressive things—the rocks they find to do the job and how well they hold up.
The Environmental Steward program began after you became manager. How did you decide to start having Environmental Stewards at Wolfe’s Neck?
At that point, I think that the park and the Maine Conservation Corps had both come under the Bureau of Parks and Lands, so we were very aware of their programs. We had seen an increase in the demand for our educational programs and we still had more than we could really do at the park to take care of on our own. We saw a decline in volunteers helping with the programs, so there was a real need for help with our environmental education programs.
What does having the Environmental Steward position here allow Wolfe’s Neck to do with educational programming?
It allows us to accommodate almost all the groups who want to schedule programs at the park. We don’t have to juggle our schedules as much, which can be hard on our staff. They’ve been very good about that, but it is disruptive to the park. That’s been great. We’ve been able to expand our outreach program a lot.
In 2015, Wolfe’s Neck Woods received more than fifty field trips for educational nature programs, serving about 2,090 participants. Park Manager Andy Hutchinson, Ranger Michael Frey, Environmental Steward Jordan Tate and I led the programs.
Could you talk a bit more about what the outreach program is and how it got started?
We’ve always done some outreach at Wolfe’s Neck Woods. It’s part of the mission for the interpretive program here that’s funded from the Wolfe’s Neck Trust: to do environmental education at other parks or around the community, at libraries or for different groups who want us to come and do a presentation. We have recently seen a big increase in demand for one of our programs in particular, Animal Tracks and Signs, which we promoted at the 2015 Reading Roundup Conference, a state wide conference of librarians. That was the first time we were invited to share our program there—I think they had heard of the program we put on for the local Freeport community library and they invited us to come and talk to librarians at a statewide level.
Once we were discovered there, it really took off. We had over a dozen programs in 2015. We really looked at that a little harder because it was drawing us out of the park a lot and there were some costs as well, so in 2016 we are offering that program with a suggested donation to help allay the costs. We’re still getting lots of calls about it, and people are more than willing to pay the $75 fee. Its been really well received—some libraries from last year have already rescheduled for this year, and we have some new ones as well, both for summer programs and the school year.
In the Animal Tracks and Signs program, geared towards elementary and middle-school students, kids make plaster casts of tracks, learn some basic tracking skills, and learn about three different Maine animals. The program has a ratio of three presenters for twenty-five students. Since the park has a staff of five—Park Manager Andy Hutchinson, Rangers Tami Bill and Michael Frey, and two booth attendants—having two Environmental Stewards at Wolfe’s Neck has meant that more staff members can stay in the park whenever possible.
What role do you see the Environmental Steward position playing in the park in the future?
The amount of staff we have with the addition of two Maine Conservation Corps Environmental Stewards gives us a pretty good staffing level. I’d like to keep going with the Environmental Steward program and expand our staff seasons to cover the entire busy season, which goes well into October and starts sometime in April. (Park Rangers work from late April to late August or September.) Having a 1700-hour member and a 900-hour member is ideal. We could even use two 1700-hour members—we haven’t done that yet. We were going to try that this year, but the grant funding wasn’t there. We may look into that to see if we can get two 1700-hour positions to help us with more outreach and with Feathers over Freeport in April, our largest event of the year, since 900-hour members don’t start until May. That would also help us with our school season—all the field trips want to come in June at the end of the school year, but because of the browntail moth caterpillar infestation we’re trying to get more of them to come in late April or early May.
What do you want other potential site supervisors to know about having trail teams or an environmental steward at their site?
Anyone who’s looking for really professional level trail work to be done is going to get that with the Maine Conservation Corps field teams, and we’ve had great luck with them. Our trails would not be in the same condition they’re in today. They can do a lot of work in a short period of time and they can do a lot of the major trail work that resource managers often don’t have the staff or time to do. I highly recommend the field teams.
Environmental Stewards are going to bring that same level of professionalism to a work site and give you a real boost in your ability to provide exceptional programming to visitors or to do outreach. We’ve had great luck in that regard too; all our environmental stewards have brought some unique qualities to the workplace and left their marks here. We have a number of programs that have been developed by Environmental Stewards, which are some of our most popular and most enjoyed programs. They can really help you to provide programming that you wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to do.
I know that for most agencies looking into this program, its always a struggle to find enough funding to do everything you want to do, so this can be a good alternative to finding staff members. The Maine Conservation Corps is easy to work with too; they’ve been very flexible. I think it’s been a real boon to state parks and can be that way for a lot of other agencies too. I’ve seen it at Mount Blue, Sebago Lake, here, and even at Ferry Beach where our Environmental Stewards have helped out quite a bit. Having someone on site is ideal.
I see the program expanding. It’s really difficult to obtain funding for new positions in parks, so this is a way for us to do the work we need to do without getting the positions that we would love to have but aren’t able to. Every State agency is struggling to find enough staff—it’s a statewide issue and parks are no different. The Bureau of Parks and Lands definitely sees the value of these positions.
Six 900 hour Environmental Steward positions are open with the Bureau of Parks and Lands for 2016: Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, Mt. Blue State Park, Sebago Lake State Park, Vaughan Woods State Park, Grafton Notch State Park, and Bigelow Preserve Public Reserved Land.
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.