One of the values of the Grafton Forest Wilderness conservation easement is the protection it will provide to the Appalachian Trail itself, but this can be complicated. The above image of the survey map shows what we mean when we note this fact. On this map, the A.T. – the actual trail you are walking on in the Grafton Notch area in Maine – is denoted by the brown/beige dashed line with the famous “AT” symbol laid over it. When Grafton Notch State Park was created in 1963, it was assumed that the A.T. was within the white area shown on this map. That would mean that the trail was owned by Maine State Parks and was therefore open for public access forever. When we undertook the Grafton Forest Wilderness project with Northeast Wilderness Trust, they commissioned a boundary survey before acquiring the land (shown in yellow above) from a timber company. To everybody’s surprise, the A.T. treadway was actually located on the timber company land.
Northeast Wilderness Trust purchased the property without any restrictions, and by now adding a conservation easement to this land they own, we can apply guarantees of public access to the A.T. If you hike up to Old Speck Mountain from the parking lot in Grafton Notch State Park, you will still pass from that area into land owned by Northeast Wilderness Trust. But once the land is protected by a conservation easement, your right to continue into their land will be guaranteed. Northeast Wilderness Trust is a fellow conservation organization and would never do that! But enshrining rights of the public to the Appalachian Trail is extremely important to ensure that one of the nation’s foremost outdoor recreation resources is open to everybody forever.
A group of kids on a canoe trip is a pretty normal summer camp activity in Maine. But for most of these teens, it’s their first time in a canoe. Most of their families recently arrived in Maine from Angola, and today is a welcome reprieve from the crowded emergency shelter in Portland where they’ve been living.
Their trip is organized by a new grant-funded program #WEOUTSIDE, run by the Maine Association of New Americans (MANA). The program launched this summer to introduce asylum seeker teenagers to the Maine Outdoors. Program leader Moon Machar said the goal of the program is to help young people of color access and enjoy the outdoors.
With support from a grant from The Nature Based Education Consortium and a partnership with the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, Machar took about a dozen campers out on a new outdoor adventure each week. In this story, Ari Snider joins Machar and the teens for a paddle on a beautiful sunny day in the Rangeley Lakes Region of Western Maine.
Milt Wright, one of the founding board members of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and its board secretary for many years, recently passed away. Milt was born in Orrington and grew up in the Bangor area before joining the U.S. Army and heading overseas to Korea. When he returned, he taught in Maine high schools and worked for the Maine Teachers Association including as Executive Director.
Like so many who have worked to create and maintain the Appalachian Trail in Maine, Milt was a consummate volunteer at all levels. He served in many roles with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club (including as President), was a mainetainer and was instrumental in the creation of the Grafton Loop Trail. He was very active in his home town of Readfield in conservation, trails, town government and historic preservation – so much so that the town honored him with a Spirit of America award.
Milt hiked Katahdin every year for 58 years in a row – a feat unlikely to be matched again! But this accomplishment should not overshadow the tireless work he put in to build and sustain so many organizations in Maine:
Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust
Maine Appalachian Trail Club
Friends of Baxter
Kennebec Land Trust
Town of Readfield
Maine Teachers Association
Volunteers who are committed to one organization or cause are wonderful; volunteers like Milt who devote decades to several and through tireless work advance the work of all of them are truly remarkable. Milt will be sorely missed by this organization and by the many people who he positively impacted during his rich life.
It was chilly to start! But that was ok since the group had a chance to break out their ponchos. It’s been a rainy summer but we have been lucky to have nice weather on the days we have been out in the Maine A.T. region. We headed over to Moose Cave, where there were many questions about the origin of the name and what happened to the dead moose. Jen and Jocelyn from Maine BPL had a number of activities set up for the participants to learn about geology, natural history, ecology, plant and animal identification, and lots of other stuff that you can find in Grafton Notch. We also explored Mother Walker Falls before heading to Screw Auger Falls.
This natural feature, comprised of the river, the falls and a gorge at its base, was a great opportunity to explore and for the kids to get out on their own. It is also a great spot for having lunch, swimming and making plaster casts of animal tracks! This great activity also had the participants take home their own cast, a nice memory of the day. Maine BPL and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife also provided some posters and activity books to bring home.
Our sixth trip! These outings have been amazing so far, and we have been fortunate to have had great weather despite the rainy season. This trip to Little Bigelow might have featured the best conditions of all for a hike on the Appalachian Trail. We enlisted Samaa Abdurraqib who is a multitalented Mainer in arts, humanities and community work, but she’s also a Wilderness First Responder, an organizer for Outdoor Afro, and a Maine Master Naturalist!
We headed out looking to make it as far up Little Bigelow as time would allow. Samaa talked to the group about different elements of nature that were all around us, including ferns and how to tell them apart, how to identify balsams by their nice smell, and different things on the forest floor (mushrooms, toads, flowers, etc.). She also pointed out the many birch trees to connect to last week’s learning about birch bark canoes! And maple trees to connect to syrup.
We had lunch at the A.T. shelter on the way – interviews with another camera crew making another documentary, ho hum. The kids had a chance to talk a little with some kind thru-hikers who were equally grateful for the extra sandwiches we gave them. We continued on, reaching the summit of a knoll with a nice view in the afternoon. The knoll featured many blueberries and the kids were able to pick lots! They had lots of questions about when they grow, why in Maine, and what you could make with them. Samaa answered them all!
The trip down was fairly quick – no swimming for this trip due to cooler temperatures but we have more #WEOUTSIDE excursions to come!
Our next #WEOUTSIDE trip was a truly special one: a trip to Penobscot Nation tribal lands to learn about Wabanaki culture and the relationship to the land. We were fortunate to have four personnel from the Penobscot Nation Department of Natural Resources who took the group out to locations that the public doesn’t normally get to see.
This including a great swimming location where Shantel talked to the group about the importance of water quality. The kids are thinking of water primarily as something to swim in but Shantel showed them the water quality levels and the importance of clean streams for cold water fish species and drinking water. Chuck talked to them about some of the riparian tree species nearby – white/paper birch as the species for making canoes and black ash as the central species in the Wabanaki creation story of Gluskabe firing an arrow into its trunk, and the Wabanaki people springing forth from it.
These were great connections for the kids to make, given that they had paddled canoes and seen many white birch and other species out on our trips!
We would like to extend our great thanks to the Penobscot Nation Department of Natural Resources for having us as their guests!
Trip #4! For this outing, we wanted to get the kids out to access Maine’s numerous lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams. Paddling is a great way to access the A.T. region of Maine that doesn’t involve hiking and is a great way to do it if you have a camera crew from Maine Public tagging along! Which we did. One of the logistical challenges with a group paddle is the number of boats, life jackets and paddles you need to pull together. Fortunately, for this trip as several others, we partnered with another Maine conservation organization to to help us out! Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust and Amanda provided all the boats and gear along with instruction so we could get the participants out for some fun in a safe way.
Our destination was the Cupsuptic River, a relative short and slow river that empties into Cupsuptic Lake (which is actually just the northern portion of Mooselookmeguntic Lake). After getting our gear and going through a tutorial on paddling and canoe logisitics with Amanda, we were ready to paddle a few miles upstream for lunch at Hickley’s Cafe on the far shore. (The “cafe” is really just a nice lunch spot with picnic tables and an outhouse.) Fortunatley for us, both Amanda AND one of the Maine Public camera crew speak Portuguese and so things moved efficiently as they typically do with about a dozen twelve year-olds attempting to paddle canoes for the first time in their lives.
Fortunately, everybody made it for lunch. A few boats even pioneered new paddling techniques like the “zig zag for shore to shore” and “going backwards seems easier, let’s do that” methods. Lunch was provided by the Oquossoc Grocery and since there was very little garbage to pack out, everybody seemed satisfied. The return trip was downstream so it went a bit quicker, leaving lots of time for swimming at the boat launch and interviews for the Maine Public documentary. They are creating a multi-platform project called Borealis which will focus on people in the outdoors in Maine.
Then after loading up the boats the kids went swimming. Special thanks to the Maine Forest Rangers for helping to load the trailer. And stay tuned for adventure #5 next week!
#WEOUTSIDE – Trip #3. For this trip to the Maine Appalachian Trail region, we wanted to start challenging the participants. They are all eleven to thirteen years old and we wanted to see what they can do! Weather and time were a bit of an issue, so we decided to head up to Table Rock in Grafton Notch, on the side of West Baldpate Mountain. The hike is approximately 2.5 miles and is pretty steep in places – complete with a section of iron rungs to climb to reach the flat viewpoint on the rock at the top. The kids had all their own gear, including lunches, so would be hiking for that reward!
The weather was hot but we were grateful that the rain has been falling on days when #WENOTOUTSIDE. The kids started out slowly, getting their legs under them, but gradually picked up steam with help from Mardi. She is a hiking expert and as a Black woman out on the trail, imparting her experience to a new group of hikers who look like her is immensely important. There’s even a documentary about her! We were so grateful to her for leading this group.
We had lunch up on Table Rock, enjoyed the views and took many photographs. The trip down was pretty quick, especially when the kids were told we could go SWIMMING in one of the nearby waterfall areas. After coordinating with a camp group, we headed over to Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Step Falls Preserve to cool off. Strategically, we didn’t tell the kids they would have to hike a half a mile to get to the pools. But just when their spirits were flagging, we made it! The falls have a series of “water slides” that are great to slide down, into pools of water at the base. Some local swimmers were very helpful in guiding us on reaching the best areas. We all know sweaty hiking is way more fun, but we were able to force the kids to swim for a little while…
The #WEOUTSIDE crew had its first outing in the Maine woods on Wednesday, to the Perham Stream Birding Trail. This quiet spot in the valley between Mount Abraham and Saddleback was once home to the settlement of East Madrid, Maine, but is now a quiet intervale between Perham Stream and Orbeton Stream. The former farmland has reverted to blueberry meadow and forest, making it ideal habitat for migratory birds! The trail is located on land conserved by the High Peaks Alliance and hosts many birding festivals and walks throughout the year. It’s an ideal spot to introduce this group of kids who are new to Maine to what a wonderful place it is.
We started out with lunch (of course) since food is a great motivator. After eating along the quiet banks of Perham Stream, Pete McKinley, an ecologist with The Wilderness Society, led our group along the trail through the blueberry fields. Pete’s skills in hearing and identifying the calls of migratory bird species really engaged the kids, who had great questions about behavior (“Why do they call to each other? What makes a mate choose one over another?”). Since this group are native Portuguese speakers we had a translator with for the hike and she did an excellent job. Birds are fascinating for all ages, whatever the language.
It was a fairly hot day but on the way back things were livened by a rare summer moose sighting! The moose, a juvenile presumably interested in other young people fooling around in the hot weather, stayed around for a few minutes, allowing everybody to get an up-close view. Couldn’t have worked out better if we had staged it for this first expedition!
We ended the day back by Perham Stream, where several kids predictably got soaking wet despite trying not to. Check back for info on next week’s hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Mahoosucs!
The #WEOUTSIDE program was finally launched on June 30th at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, with the goal of introducing the participants to the Maine outdoors in low-key manner (and with food). Maine Audubon graciously allowed MANA and the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust to use both their indoor facilities for going over some safety and preparedness information, but also to then be able to step outside and immediately forget all of it while enjoying the beauty and peace of this nice spot along the Presumpscot River estuary. Despite being new to Maine and new to this environment, the kids aren’t shy about their personalities and that made this introduction day all the more fun.
Special thanks to Eric Topper, Director of Education for Maine Audubon, and translator Gee for being so emphatic in helping out with the language barrier (“Poison ivy. Do not touch! You – don’t touch!!!)
Next week will be the first trip in the Maine Appalachian Mountain region so check back for more info!