Conservation Champion Bob Cummings Passes Away

Bob Cummings at the end of his 1993 Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

If you have seen the Press Herald article about Bob Cummings, a founding director of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, you might have read it and thought, “wow, I can’t believe the life this guy had, how did he do all of this?”.  Most people know Bob, who passed away on Saturday, from his 1972 report on what are today known as Maine Public Reserved Lands, which led to two Pulitzer Prize nominations.  Bob’s obituary (which he wrote himself) provides even more in the way of fascinating detail – from his report on tidal dams in Nova Scotia, to the development of a tax assessment system for Phippsburg, to his championing of environmental regulations at a time when other reporters wouldn’t touch those issues with a ten-foot pole.

Undeterred by the weather on a hike in recent years.
Undeterred by the weather on a hike in recent years.

Even the litany of awards and citations from environmental and press organizations – enough for roughly ten people – do not capture the full depth of what Bob’s accomplishments as a journalist and environmental mean to the State of Maine.  The public reserved lands do not consist solely of the Bigelow and Mahoosuc preserves – if you look at this map you can see the full scale of what began with Bob’s articles in 1972.  Every speck of dark green on the map – including the ones that are not labelled because there are too many to give names to all of them – has been created for the public.  Open your Maine Atlas and Gazetteer to almost any page and you will find a piece of land labelled “MPRL” which stands for – you guessed it – Maine Public Reserved Land.

Bob retired in the early 1990’s but remained active in Phippsburg politics and with state conservation organizations.  He continued to serve as president of the Phippsburg Land Trust (which he helped to found in 1974) and helped to found this land trust in 2002.  Along the way he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, which led to his involvement with Appalachian Mountain Club and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.  He was maintainer for the White Brook Trail on White Cap Mountain for twenty-five years – a notoriously rough and remote trail.  This was in keeping with Bob’s lifelong enthusiasm for getting out on the lands he championed.  Mention of Bob Cummings in any professional or social setting often led to somebody retelling stories of trips taken with him and the narrow misses that ensued.

His dedication in later years to the protection of the Appalachian Trail landscape was unmatched and his vision of the trail will resonate for years to come.  Bob will be sorely missed for his principled support of Maine’s natural environment, his thoughtful insights, and his sense of humor.  His legacy will live on for years to come.

We will have a more extensive report on Bob’s life in the Winter 2016 newsletter, which will be out in February.