Fresh from the Woods
Trails for the 21st century
By JOE RANKIN
It’s a beautiful day. Leaves are turning. The air smells of the dying days of summer. A swollen stream roars off to the right.
The group is moving slowly, pulling brush off a newly cleared footpath. Snipping pesky branches, cutting saplings. Later in the day the volunteers will build bog bridges and install water bars.
This is a workday on the Fly Rod Crosby Trail, a new trail in the high peaks region of western Maine that will one day stretch 35 miles and invite hikers, mountain bikers and ATVers into the forest to learn about the region and the legendary outdoorswoman for whom the trail is named.
Putting in a water bar on the Fly Rod Crosby Trail. (Jo Josephson photo)
And the Fly Rod Crosby Trail is only one of several new long distance trails that are stitching together the woods and communities of Maine, and, some say, laying the foundation of a new tourism economy.
In the beginning there was the Appalachian Trail. It runs from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Katahdin. Of its 2,174 miles, 281 are in Maine. For the motorized crowd there’s Maine’s 14,000-mile system of snowmobile trails, including those interstates for snow sleds, the Interconnected Trail System or ITS. And there is a growing number of ATV trails.
In addition to the Fly Rod Crosby Trail, the new generation of trail systems created over the past few years, now being cut or being planned includes:
The Maine Huts and Trails System in western Maine. Thirty of the estimated 180 miles of trail have been cut and three of a dozen eco-lodges with cabins completed. The “huts” have already hosted some 5,000 overnight visitors.
- The Northern Forest Canoe Trail. It runs 740 miles across northern Maine, Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, to the western edge of the Adirondacks, connecting 22 rivers and streams and 56 lakes and ponds
The International Appalachian Trail, which takes up where the AT leaves off on Katahdin. It heads northeast through forests and the potato fields of Aroostook County and hopscotches around Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula and the Canadian Maritime Provinces before ending at the tip of Newfoundland. Plans are to continue it to Europe and even North Africa.
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Katahdin Iron Works-Roach Ponds Trail System. There are already some 70 miles of trails on the KI section and plans are to greatly expand trail mileage through the Roach Ponds tract. This year the AMC created some new “fishing trails” to remote ponds and opened its new Gorman Chairback Camps.
The Down East Sunrise Trail, an 87-mile rail trail from Ayers Junction south of Calais to Ellsworth. The trail is a multi-use, four season trail that passes through forest and bogs, over streams and by beaver ponds, offering vistas of far-off mountains, all while running virtually level.These trails are unlike the AT, and even the state’s snowmobile trail system.
Many are meant to be “multi-modal.” Some offer lodging. Many are meant to be used in winter as well as other seasons. Most have a cultural or so-called “heritage” aspect, giving them an educational twist.
“The ‘new generation’ trails offer a broader array of opportunities for more people to experience the Maine woods. Not everyone is up for a multi-day backpacking trip on the AT,” says Karin Tilberg, who served as a senior advisor on natural resources to Gov. John Baldacci and co-chair of the Nature-based Tourism Task Force..
“Even one outdoor adventure into Maine’s natural forested landscape can open the door to appreciation and awareness of the Maine woods. That appreciation can lead to pride, curiosity, and a desire to learn more. These trails help entice people to experience all that Maine’s woods have to offer and to develop a relationship with its history, landowners and future well-being.”
Cross country skiers on a Maine Huts and Trails trail. (Photo courtesy of Maine Huts and Trails.)
“I think any time you get people to actually walk or ski or be in the environment it awakens a whole new sense for them of the importance of it. I see it all the time in teachers,” agrees Sherry Huber, the executive director of the Maine TREE Foundation.
Adding signs and exhibits to interpret the biology, geology and history of an area, as many of the new trail projects plan to do, “adds to the experience a person will have, makes it richer, gives them a better understanding of where they’ve been. The more you know about an area the more interesting it is,” Huber added.
The Fly Road Crosby Trail will celebrate the life of Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, who lived from 1854 to 1946.
She was Maine’s first registered guide, lobbied for creel and bag limits, and promoted Maine as a tourist destination, said Ben Godsoe, 28, who grew up in Madrid Township in Franklin County and came on as the project‘s director last year.
Crosby grew up in Phillips, guided in Rangeley and is buried in Strong, so the route is roughly linked to the landscape of her life.
The trail begins in Strong and will stretch northwestward 35 miles, more or less, crossing the AT along the way. It will end, appropriately enough, at the new Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossoc. It will link a variety of existing trails and create some new ones. The trail is a project of the High Peaks Alliance. Eight different groups, representing snowshoers, ATVers, hikers, canoeists, and snowmobilers, are involved.
The major challenge has been getting the motorized and non-motorized groups to work together. For Godsoe, that’s meant attending a lot of meetings and doing a lot of listening.
Jo Josephson of Temple is one of the dozen or so people out working on the trail this fall day. She’s buoyantly optimistic about the project, saying it will not only connect people to the forest, but help bridge cultural divides by getting people to work together who might not have otherwise.
“It‘s also a trail for local people who can rediscover their heritage,” Josephson said. “There’s going to be a lot signs, history, geology. Everyone’s going to use this trail for their needs. And they’re going to get a sense of place.”
The trail will be “multi-modal in places, but divided between footpaths and motorized sections in others. This section the group is working on today is a hiking path that parallels a heavily used ATV trail on the other side of the Sandy River.
Jim Logan of Freeman Township, who is also lopping branches and pulling brush today, is an avid hiker and “a person who, more and more, likes seeing people get outside, regardless of how they do it. This would be a good way of seeing if you could get more cooperation going. And you know, frankly, if we don’t cooperate, the landowners won’t.”
Godsoe said the Fly Rod Crosby Trail will be “unique in this part of the state. Maybe the whole state. It directly connects heritage resources like museums and historical societies, it features co-management by multiple recreational trail groups and it has something for everyone.”
“Fly Rod Crosby was the first person to really market this part of Maine as a destination for tourists and early recreation. She did this by tying together resources in the area like the narrow gauge railroad, hotels and guide services. We’re just trying to follow in her footsteps 100 years later.”
While the Fly Rod trail is probably the only landscape scale trail system being designed around a single person theme, so to speak, it is not the only one to emphasize cultural aspects of the state’s landscape.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is meant to retrace traditional canoe routes through the northern forest.
“One of the really powerful things about trails is the potent way they access the outdoors. For people that don’t have a woodlot in their back yard, a trail is their access point,” said Kate Williams, the executive director of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
“What’s really cool about this new generation of trails, if that’s what they are . . . is they accept that power and do a lot more than say we can just guide people through a natural place. They offer them a story about the landscape . . . you become part of the history you learn about.”
The Appalachian Mountain Club is expanding trail and lodging opportunities on its 66,000 acres around the Katahdin Iron Works and Roach Ponds area.
The objectives,” said Heather Clish, the 100,000-member Club’s deputy director of conservation, “provide more recreation opportunities, guarantee public access to the woods, and protect large areas of forest, all while helping support the local economy through recreation-based tourism and timber production.”
“What we are doing is providing a more diverse array of activities,” she said. “People will have a choice of lodges and campsites. They may want to go hiking one day, paddling another, fishing another day.”
The AMC trails will also educate people about the diverse uses of the forest since the Club continues to sustainably harvest timber on parts of its lands.
“It’s also an opportunity to see that kind of work in action,” said Clish. “For safety reasons we’re not going to be sending people right into a timber harvest. But simply being exposed to a managed forest builds to their fundamental understanding of what the Maine woods is about.”
The Maine Huts and Trails System is perhaps the most ambitious of the new generation trail systems.
A happy hut crowd enjoying dinner. (Photo courtesy of Maine Huts and Trails.)
It was the brainchild of former Sugarloaf USA president Larry Warren. He dreamed of a hiking-cross country skiing trail running from Bethel to Greenville, with “eco-lodges,” or huts, along its length.
A decade or so later, MH&T has spent some $8 million on the project, most of it on land and lodging facilities. Thirty miles of trail have been cut and three huts built, at Poplar Stream Falls, Flagstaff Lake and Grand Falls on the Dead River, said Executive Director Dave Herring. Some 5,000 people have stayed overnight at them, with visitors coming from 25 states and three foreign countries.
“So far the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We just did a survey recently of current users And 89 percent say they are ’very likely’ to return. People are really excited and more often than not surprised by what they find.”
It will take years to complete the project, as it will for the AMC to round out its trail system and lodging offerings on its land, and even to complete the much smaller Fly Rod Crosby Trail.
But Herring notes that the groups are building for the future.
He sees the new trail systems are helping create the foundation for a new type of eco-tourism industry in Maine. They will build on Maine’s “outdoor heritage and outdoor recreation brand” and “further build out a more robust nature-based economy,” Herring said.
“But that new eco-tourism economy won’t materialize overnight,” he said. “Like the trails themselves, it‘s a work in progress.”
“There needs to be this big push of a number of different initiatives to create that critical mass,” Herring said. “The critical mass isn’t there yet. A lot of the projects are not yet complete. But the vision is there. That’s the biggest part. It’s just a matter of executing it.”
Fresh from the Woods is produced by Forests for Maine’s Future, a collaboration of the University of Maine, Maine TREE Foundation, the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine and the Maine Forest Service.
Lynn Levine :
forester, author and…The Scat Lady
For the last 32 years, Lynn Levine has been an environmental educator, tracker and a consulting forester to private landowners, managing over 15,000 acres of land. She recently published her third book, Snow Secrets, directed at a new audience: kids.
Lynn has been a consultant to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, creating a middle school environmental citizenship program, and to Project Learning Tree. In the last two years, she has created five interpretive trails including Treasured Trees through Brattleboro and most recently Woodlands Interpretive Trail. The latter trail includes a mp3 download for auditory information (maybe the 1st of its kind). Lynn has taken thousands of people into the forest to share her love of nature.
Lynn has co-authored two books: Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life Size-Tracking Guide and Working with Your Woodland: A Landowner’s Guide and now Snow Secrets.
Lynn was born in Brooklyn and moved to Vermont in 1974. Four years later, having received her master’s degree in forestry from the University of Massachusetts, Lynn became the first female consulting forester in New England. Throughout her career, she has been passionate about protecting the integrity of the forest.
>What led you to write your new book, Snow Secrets?
After working in the woods for many years, my passion for tracking began with a simple question. While I was looking down at the snow, I asked Warren Muzzey, a logger I was working with, “Do you know what made those tracks?” I was amazed when he immediately answered, “A fisher.” I wanted to know how he could possibly know that. I began studying with trackers such as Paul Rezendes, Sue Morse and James Halfpenny. Over the years, the best way for me to cement my learning about the natural world has been to teach about it and, so, I started teaching tracking, and I have taken thousands of people into the woods. I am the type of teacher who likes to simplify information and so I honed a system of learning tracking with my co-author, Martha Mitchell, and in 2002 published Mammal Tracks: Life-Size Tracking Guide. Several years later, we added information about scat, and it is now entitled, Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Tracking Guide. The books have been so popular that I thought it would be fun to write a book for children that would inspire kids to explore the out-of-doors. I also had a special interest in creating a book focusing on female characters. As far as I know, there are no other children’s nature adventure books where the main characters are girls.
How is your career as a forester and environmental educator reflected in the book?
I’ve been a forester and environmental educator for 32 years and, by using the knowledge I’ve gained in the woods, I was able to create a fictional story where all the natural history is correct. I didn’t want to create an imaginary science fiction world, so drawing upon my own time in the woods was critical to writing Snow Secrets. In terms of being an environmental educator, I have realized that there are many styles of learning. Some children learn best in classroom settings, and others learn best when out in nature. It’s critical that we honor all forms of learning. Unfortunately, in our culture we often don’t value the outdoors learner. In Snow Secrets, Sarah is school smart, and Jasmine learns better from nature. They must combine their skills to succeed in solving nature’s mysteries.
How difficult did you find it to write a children’s book? Did you get feedback from kids while doing various drafts?
At first, I thought that writing this children’s book would be easy because I am constantly visualizing stories in my head. However, making those images come alive for readers was a challenge. I was lucky enough to become part of a children’s writing critique group led by two professional authors. And, then, other well-known children’s authors, including Karen Hesse, Eileen Christelow and David Budbill offered many helpful suggestions. It wound up taking me three years to write the book. In addition, a fifth grade class read Snow Secrets and gave me great feedback. They were so happy to be helping me hone my book. I took their remarks very seriously, and I wound up including many of their ideas.
How did you get your nickname The Scat Lady?
I wasn’t planning on it. I slowly began to collect animal signs from my own tracking adventures, including scat. Several years later, I realized that I had scat from 27 species of, mostly, mammals. I taught in a second grade classroom in Colorado using my scat collection and, two years later, when I revisited that school, three students ran up to me and called out, “The scat lady is back.” This was totally unexpected. I smiled because I loved their enthusiasm and really liked this quirky title. So, “The Scat Lady” was born.
Where can people buy your book?
Snow Secrets costs just $7.95 and can be ordered through any bookstore or, on-line, at amazon.com. I wrote the book for 8-12 year olds to read, but I have found that younger children (4-7) enjoy listening to it. I have been very pleased to see that adults really enjoy reading the book, and they like to solve the mysteries, too. Mammal Tracks and Scat can be ordered at my website, heartwoodpress.com
Are you planning another book?
Yes. I’ve started on a sequel tentatively called Spring Secrets.
E–mail interview by Joe Rankin