The Maine Conservation Corps (MCC), an AmeriCorps program through the Maine Commission for Community Service, housed in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry was thrilled to connect with an abundance of MCC Alumni who identified as students, teachers, community organization and nonprofit leaders at the Unity College Environmental Career Fair.
As an AmeriCorps initiative, MCC 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 and older 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 grow and make valuable connections.
This network of past members was ever-present on Unity’s campus, as current MCC Training Coordinator, Amie Daniels, met with dozens of MCC alumni having served as recent as 2016 all the way back through 1998. “We had set up our table of information and were excited to be present with so many Environmental enthusiasts and organizations around us.” Daniels remarked, “Further than that, we were thrilled to discover that the table right next to us was actually being represented by MCC alumni, Jackie Stratton, who had served as an Environmental Educator just a few years back.” Stratton is now the Stewardship Project Manager for the Coastal Mountains Land Trust and relates her acquired skills, efforts and successes of her current position to have stemmed from her service with MCC. Continue reading Strong Presence of Successful MCC Alumni at Unity College Environmental Career Fair→
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.
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.
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!
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.
A 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.
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.
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
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.
August’s Volunteer of the Month is Jamie Coughlan from Augusta, Maine. Jamie is a close personal friend of MCC staff member Deidrah Stanchfield, and has joined her as a volunteer on several projects through the season. Most recently, he joined Deidrah and Environmental Steward Jordan Tate, at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park. While there, he assisted Jordan in presenting an interpretive program to the public.
Jamie is originally from southern Maine and was educated at Pierre’s School of Cosmetology in Portland. In addition to helping in his community, Jamie enjoys reading and has read seven or eight books in the past month. Jamie is also a skilled cook, according to Deidrah he; “makes an amazing chicken casserole.”
We at the Maine Conservation Corps would like to thank Jamie for his participation and effort. MCC loves having volunteers of all ages! If you’re interested in joining one of our teams for a few days, please feel free to contact me, Dylan Cookson, at Dylan.Cookson@maine.gov or call me at 207-624-6092.