Cat National News and the Maine Conservation Corps

Video by Maine Conservation Corps Member Dmitry Pepper. Thanks to him and his field crew for this video. Added to the MCC Blog on December 22 by Dmitry’s permission.

Playmate (Podington Bear) / CC BY-NC 3.0
The Rover (Speakeasy Electroswing) / By artist’s permission.

5 Tips for Staying Healthy When Active This Winter

Cold weather has its charms. Kids love seeing their own steamy breaths floating on the air. Snow is source of more outdoor activities that I can count, and can make any landscape into a gorgeous vista. Mainers retain their childlike love of the winter months through most of their lives. Maine’s winters are a popular attraction for skiers, snowshoers, and other winter sports lovers. Maine’s State Park system offers unique occasions to celebrate the cold months of the year with the Maine State Park Ski and Snowshoe Trailer, First Day Hikes, and Winter Family Fun Days.

But cold weather can be stressful on the body, dangerous, and even life threatening. For those of you who love to go out on winter days, here are some tips for keeping safe and healthy while hitting the trails this winter.

Stay Hydrated

You don’t sweat as much during the winter, but you still loose moisture through breathing and physical activity. It is just as important to drink water during the winter as it is during the summer.

Carrying water outside during freezing temperatures can be a bit of a challenge. Insulated thermoses can keep your drink from freezing. Thirst is a sign that you are already dehydrated, so drink before you get thirsty. Also try getting water from food, like fresh fruit. has more tips on winter hydration.

Alfons005 (1)Wear Wool

Trapped air is one of the best insulators there is. Wool fabrics naturally trap air inside of them and are well known for retaining their insulating power when wet. Wool also wicks sweat away from the body.

Cotton is much more common in clothes and is less suited to keeping people warm during the winter. It doesn’t wick moisture and it losses heat more rapidly than wool. has a more extensive article about the advantages of wool clothing.

Use Caution and Judgement around Ice

Hendrick_Avercamp_-_A_Scene_on_the_Ice_-_WGA01076Winter provides opportunities you wouldn’t normally have during the summer. How often do you get to ice-skate outdoors or walk on a lake? Walking on ice can be dangerous and there are a few precautionary measures you should take before venturing out.

If you intend to go out on ice, try to go to places where the ice is regularly monitored. Parks, resorts, and sporting clubs sometimes commit to regularly monitoring ice. If you can’t find information about the quality of the ice, consider asking some locals who live nearby and observe the ice closely before venturing out. Ice may not be safe to walk on if there are cracks, holes, flowing water, signs of thawing and re-freezing, and pressure ridges from water currents. The safest ice is blue to white in color and at least 4 inches thick.

Before going out, pack some spare dry clothes in a water proof container and consider bringing an ice pick was well. Don’t go alone and make sure someone else knows where you are.

WikiHow has an excellent guide on outdoor ice safety. Read it for more advice on staying safe on ice.

Avoid Alcohol

At some point you may have heard that drinking alcohol warms you up. This is not true.

During cold weather the body naturally conserves heat by restricting blood flow to your extremities, that’s part of the reason why extended exposure to cold can cause you to feel numb. Alcohol opens that blood flow back up.

Opening up blood flow to your extremities can make you feel warm, but it also causes you to lose heat more rapidly. Alcohol also decreases your body’s tendency to shiver, which generates extra heat through muscle activity.

The University of Rochester Medical Center has more tips about dressing for the winter.

Wear Sunglasses

SunglassesWinter days have a reputation for being short and dark, but UV light can still damage your eyes. The winter sun might actually be more dangerous to your eyes than summer sun in some ways. When the sun is lower in the sky, UV light comes into your eyes more directly, and snow and ice reflect UV light in all directions.

Some experts say that you should wear sunglasses all year long. See this article at for more details.

Alumni Spotlight: Susan Pienta

Right now in Queensbury, New York, a group of students is studying the impermeable surfaces, water sheds, erosion, and storm water features of their campus. Soon they will be preparing presentations for the local soil and water conservation district, creating proposals for how to manage erosion and storm water issues on the grounds. Leading these students is their Earth and Environmental Sciences Teacher Susan Pienta. Susan has a Master’s Degree in education and is an AmeriCorps alumna who has served with the California Conservation Corps and Maine Conservation Corps.

Susan served with the California Conservation Corps as a part of the Watershed Stewards Program. After she heard about the Maine Program, she travelled here to serve with the Portland DEP office. Serving here brought her closer to family and allowed her to continue working on watershed issues.

Susan Pienta2.pngHer mentor was Wendy Garland of the Maine DEP. Under Wendy’s tutelage, Susan helped to remove invasive plants and map the urban Trout Brook watershed. “We fought off multiflora rose and phragmites while overheating in neoprene waders with boots 3 sizes too big. It sounds miserable, but spending the summer outside, getting to intimately know a small urban watershed, and regularly laughing at our misfortunes made for a good time. “

Susan loved the service she was doing but decided that she missed working with children and went back to school for her Master’s in Education. Her time with AmeriCorps has helped to shape her career. “What I have learned as an AmeriCorps will make me a better teacher. I believe my experiences helped me earn a fellowship with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping new science and math teachers across the U.S.”

For current and future Maine Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps members she offers this advice: Take advantage of the opportunities for adventure and friendships with the wonderful people that surround you. “I was part of trip organized by fellow MCC environmental educators to Katahdin. It was definitely one of my favorite weekends in Maine with a group of awesome people. I also got to know people at my placement site and made some great friendships AND found someone to bike with on lunch breaks. Maine is a beautiful state filled with beautiful people. Get to know the state and the people! Eat lots of gelato! Trek across Maine! ”

Taylor’s Speech

On November the 13th, 2015 Taylor Deely was attending the 2015 Maine Conservation Corps Fall Recognition Ceremony. She delivered a stirring speech about her time with her field crew.

“I’ve got this obsession with the sun. It symbolizes a lot in my life. It’s warm and bright and shines through the trees and fields that I travel past every day. Sometimes the clouds roll in and the sky goes dark and you forget the sun even exists. It doesn’t go anywhere though, it’s still there. You can’t always see it or feel it’s warmth but it’s still there.

There’s also this fruit that I love so much because it reminds me of the sun. I eat an extremely large amount of clementine’s each hitch. Or actually, I mostly hoard them. They are round and orange like the sun. I have clems in my pockets, the dashboard of the truck, the bottom of my pack, rolling under the seats in the truck. Clems really do fill my heart with happiness because they remind me of the Sun, and so, I call my crew ‘Clem Crew.’ Each of these humans give me nothing but warmth, happiness, bright ideas, and have experienced the same sun, or lack of, each day together. Those by your side validate the beauty of your experiences. I’ve shared a lot of myself with these Clems. They’ve watched me grow as a leader and mostly as a person. They know my faults, strengths, fears, opinions, beliefs, what makes me laugh, and the little things I care about most.  As a crew we have accomplished a lot. We know what it takes to push past our limits and that having each other has made that possible.

1To have someone who warms your hands when you can’t handle the cold anymore. To have someone who gives you a perfectly timed, unexpected hug. Or saw the thief during our hike down. Or someone who can fix anything from broken truck doors to Tanaka pull cords. — My dude man bro, Madison Burris.



2To have someone who insists on escorting me through the storm instead of going by myself. Or sprint past me down the trail like a gazelle laughing in the wind. Or teach me so many big words, concepts, theories, facts, analytical reasoning, and pattern recognition.  – Mastermind Gabriel Killough-Hill.


3Or having someone make you coffee every single morning, experience true laughter and friendship, or discuss equality, acceptance, world views, struggles, misconceptions, feel understood and the same and different and alike. –Maggie Quinn.



4Or having someone to help make decisions and go for planning, advice, and reassurance on projects and life without feeling judged or uncomfortable in any sense, ever. And share in the behind the scenes efforts, misshaps, mule adventures, Duffraps and someone who does her best in her vest, and more. — Alaina Dedo.



5And lastly, having someone to look out for you, know what you need in difficult moments, offer random acts of kindness multiple times a day, every day, charge my phone, provide secret snacks and Swedish FishTM and a middle seat companion. — Liz Thibault

Ryan told me once; “I care about how you treat yourself and how you treat each other. If we treat each other with respect the work will get done. I guarantee that.” The Clem Crew has sawed through miles of new trail, pulled hundreds of stumps from the ground, swamped more stumps, brush, and trees than is humanly possible, made truckloads of crush and mineral soil, sidehilled for days at a time, moved massive rocks with our hands, dug millions of holes and filled them back in, driven mules and trucks and rock drills and bog bridges, and water bars, and removed more duff than anyone, ever. So here’s to the adventures of the Clem Crew and congratulations on this achievement.

Trimming Eyebrows with Hurricane Island

Grafton Notch State Park’s Eyebrow Trail is the site of an ongoing project to replace trail structures, improve drainage, and add stone staircases. Maine Conservation Corps Trail Crews spent two weeks on the Eyebrow Trail this year, and work is planned to continue into next year.

On October the 26th, Senior Team Leader Kat Kelley got some off-season help with this project from students of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound program. Kat lead the Outward Bound students and replaced old bog bridging, added stepping stones, cleared and improved drainage structures, and improved the trail corridor.

Outward Bound is an international outdoor education program. The MCC has worked with the Hurricane Island Outward Bound Program in the past. This year’s project involved a crew of eight Outward Bound students and instructors.20151028_100842

We hope that that the Maine Conservation Corps can continue to be a source of great experience for Outward Bound students for years to come. It was great working with all of you. Special thanks to Alex Strong of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound for reaching out to us.


Bringer of scones: October’s Volunteer of the Month

Volunteer of the Month

During the fall season, the Maine Conservation Corps is still hard at work on projects all across the State of Maine. Our members are also still actively working with Volunteers from local schools and communities.

October’s Volunteer of the Month is Jennifer Riefler from Verona Island. Jennifer has been helping Leah Beck’s Trail Crew on the Stuart Gross Trail on Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust’s 4,500-acre Wildlands property in Orland. Jennifer’s presence has been both educational and entertaining because of her developed story telling skills and extensive knowledge of ecology. Much to the delight of Leah’s team, she also brought them scones.

Jennifer RieflerJennifer has been a volunteer with Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust (GPMCT) for many years. She currently chairs the Stewardship Committee and plays an instrumental role in organizing all of their most important events. Cheri Domina, Executive Director of GPMCT, had this to say about Jennifer: “Her impact extends across Hancock County, from the Bucksport area to MDI, where she’s a science teacher at MDI High School and has inspired countless students to get outdoors. She’s currently working on a trail there that would connect the school to conservation land beyond.”

Jennifer has volunteered with the Maine Conservation Corps in the past, and her son served as a MCC Field Crew Member in 2005. When asked about Leah’s crew, Jennifer had this to say: “I have to tell you that you have a really fine crew out there on the Stuart Gross Trail. They are so welcoming and so competent and are working at a faster pace than we expected. They keep the office clean and tidy. Leah is a good crew leader; she keeps everyone focused and keeps spirits up.”

Jennifer’s experience with the land trust has left her with a very deep and heart felt connection to the land. “I love walking into the heart of the Wildlands, into the bottom of the Hothole Valley, at night in the late fall and winter, under the crystal clear night sky and the deep darkness all around, and listen for the coyotes. ”

Thanks to Jennifer and Leah’s crew for a job well done on the Stuart Gross Trail.

A Whale of a Nature Center: Ferry Beach

Hannah Colbert is an Environmental Steward who has been serving at Wolfe’s Neck Woods state Park. One of her service activities has been leading nature walks and interpretive activities at Wolfe’s Neck Woods and Ferry Beach State Park.

For many years, Ferry Beach has had nature walks- like the ones Hannah was leading- as part of its interpretive program. Ferry Beach State Park is in Saco, one of the more densely populated areas of Maine, and it’s accessible to dozens of nearby schools. Ferry Beach itself is home to upwards of ten distinct ecosystems including: mixed forest, freshwater pond, bog, and primary and back dunes. Probably the most unique feature of the park is the stand of Tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica). Maine is at the Northern edge if the Tupelo’s natural range and the trees are a rare sight in this state. Ferry Beach State Park, however, just happens to have a whole stand of them. Some of Ferry Beach’s nature walks are themed around these trees and their habitat. Ecologically interesting and accessible to a large population, Ferry Beach is the ideal place for a Nature Center.

20150826_132738 The concept for a Nature Center at Ferry Beach started to gain force about 15 years ago. The now late Park Manager, John Polackwich, was one of the strongest advocates for a Nature Center at Ferry Beach, and a small memorial garden and bench grace the exterior of the Nature Center building in his honor.

Hannah had some time before her next nature walk would start, so she took me on a short tour of the interior of the building. The Ferry Beach Nature Center had a more modern look that those at Mount Blue and Sebago Lake State Parks, which were both constructed decades ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps: Ferry Beach’s Nature Center is significantly younger. According to Gary Best, Assistant State Park Southern Regional Manager, the Nature Center was built about five years ago with donated money and grants. The inside is very spacious with a vaulted ceiling and bright lighting. There are numerous exhibits on local plant and animal life and various taxidermy animal mounts. The most attractive and imposing feature of the Nature Center is overhead. Hanging from the ceiling in Ferry Beach’s Nature Center is a fully mounted and articulated skeleton of a Long Finned Pilot Whale.


Pilot Whales are some of the larger Oceanic Dolphins. In 2014, an older Long Finned Pilot Whale tragically beached itself on Popham Beach. No one was able to save it due to unsafe conditions. The Bureau of Parks and Lands worked with Marine Mammals of Maine to mount the skeleton in the Nature Center. With money from private donations and federal grants, Whales and Nails from Maine  was hired to articulate the skeleton.

Janet Mangione, a Park Ranger at Ferry Beech State Park, and Gary Best described the adventure of getting the skeleton into the Nature Center. The fins and body were boxed separately and when they arrived at the Nature Center, the body would not fit through the door. The crate was partly disassembled, the door taken off its frame, and the crate was pushed through at an angle. Even after making space, the crate only had an eighth of an inch of clearance.


The skeleton was only placed in the Nature Center this fall and it has had a “soft opening.” Only a few press releases have gone out about the skeleton’s arrival and there have been no major efforts to publicly mark the installation. According to Gary Best the real celebration will be next summer. I know that I personally am looking forward to visiting the Nature Center when the feature is properly recognized.

This concludes our three part series on the Nature Centers of Maine’s State Park System. Check out the MCC Blog next week for October’s Volunteer of the Month.

Sebago Lake State Park Nature Center

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.

The Nature Center was a small brown cabin with a large roofed porch. Inside I found Bob Hunt sitting at his desk.

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!

Music in videos from:

Stop The Clocks (Alan Singley) / CC BY-NC 3.0
FOSSIL-FISH & all the WORLD is just a DREAM inside her HEAD=GALALA side ONE (Art of Flying) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

The Mount Blue Nature Center

Many parks and conservation agencies host interpretive programs to educate visitors on natural history and science. At the core of many such interpretive programs is a Nature Center. The mission of a Nature Center is to house exhibits and activities that visitors can access for education and entertainment.  During the month of July I took a trip to visit the Nature Center at Mount Blue State Park. The route to Mount Blue took me through quiet Maine villages and winding roads, past forests and farms. When I was nearing the park, something caught my eye and I took the chance to stop: there alongside the road was a very peculiar kind of monument.

20150626_123309A pair of legs signal ‘distress’ when they are pointing into the air and their owner’s head cannot be seen. But no one cried for help, and the legs made none of the motions of an imperiled sightseer. No, this was not some barrel enthusiast who had let their interests get the better of them: this was an ageing advertisement. Long ago in the town of Weld, Maine, some local residents had started their own business selling worms as bait for fish. “The Man in the Barrel” is a depiction of an eager fisherman who has fallen into a barrel full of bait.

I learned the story behind “The Man in the Barrel” when I reached the Mount Blue State Park Nature Center. After my curiosity was satisfied, I learned more about the Mount Blue Nature Center.  I was given the tour by Dan Muller. Dan is a Maine Conservation Corps Community Leader and spent part of his time serving at the Mount Blue Nature Center.

The interior of the Nature Center features a fireplace, thick sloping rafters, and fixed ceiling-high picture windows on either end of the building. The furnishings are halfway between a children’s recreation room and a Natural History Museum. An assortment of children’s science books are shelved less than ten feet away from a display of animal skulls arranged from smallest to largest. On the other side of the building I found taxidermy mounts near a collection of stuffed animals.

Mount Blue

In every corner you can expect to find an exhibit or an activity of one kind or another. I think any child would want to spend some time at the “WHAT’S THE POOP?” game. This clever little display is an arrangement of switches and lights next to examples of faux animal scat, animal names, and descriptions. To play, you first read the description of an animal at the bottom of the board and guess which animal it is describing. Press the button next to the description and a little bulb will light up next to the correct animal’s name and the cast of its scat.

Mount Blue 2

There are displays on the history of Mount Blue State Park, including a story about the origin of the “Man in the Barrel.” Some of the other displays and activities include three dimensional maps, watershed models, and live animals in terrariums. The Nature Center’s snakes were among the most active terrarium animals I had ever seen. Most pet snakes I have encountered in the past are sluggish and shy: at Mount Blue, the snakes on display refused to stop moving.


In the back corner near the picture windows is the bird viewing area.  Through the windows, visitors can see a neat little garden featuring a small fountain and various bird feeders. Around the windows are posters of birds and descriptions of their identifying features. This little corner is sure to be appreciated by any bird watcher who happens to visit.

A Nature Center is great feature to any conservation organization and Mount Blue State Park is lucky to have one. Consider checking it out if you happen to be in the area of Weld, Maine next summer.

This Blog Post is part of a series that will feature three Nature Centers from across the State of Maine. Next week we will feature the Sebago Lake State Park Nature Center in Casco, Maine

An AmeriCorps State Program