Br’er Rabbit’s feigned request to not be thrown into the briar patch comes to mind when I think about being tasked with developing new and enhanced non-motorized trails in the Moosehead Lake Region. Sure, there are a lot of moving parts, a huge area to evaluate, and a lot of interests and ideas to consider, but that is one nice roughly 400,000-acre briar patch!
While there are a lot of project details that could be discussed, I would instead like to take a moment in this writing to share a few experiential highlights from 2014. These brief anecdotes hopefully impart a sense of this region. For those interested in more formal information, please see www.maine.gov/dacf/mooseheadtrails, where project background is shared and updates are available.
Like Br’er Rabbit, I’m quite at home in the bush (so to speak). A decent amount of time in the woods is a perk of my job. That being said, trail scouting and layout is not all warm, sunny breezes and transcendental oneness. Sometimes, as with a scouting trip looking at Lily Bay Mt. in Frenchtown TWP., it is a hard-nosed battle with a piece of forest that couldn’t care the least about you – and that is just fine. This work session involved bushwhacking up the mountain while doing hand-to-hand combat through a sea of tight-walled spruce and fir. Ghost-like and razor-sharp dead standing timber periodically sliced my arms as I had forgotten to bring a long-sleeved, breathable shirt and instead pounded my way into the wall of green armed with a tee-shirt. Oh, and it was that magical time of year where omnipresent swarms of black flies, mosquitos, and moose flies overlap like a venn diagram of blood-letting. My evening in the saddle area atop the mountain included a hasty set-up of a hammock tent in order to quickly escape my bug companions.
Now, I am a pretty large guy and higher elevation fir trees don’t always have the most deep-rooted root systems. I awoke at night slumped in one end of the deeply bowing hammock. Investigation by headlamp showed that one anchor tree was pulling out of the ground enough to turn my taught hammock into a saggy mess. My groggy adjustments did not reset the rain fly well, which was a problem at about 4:00 AM when the heavens let loose tossing my fly aside just prior to a torrential downpour. Given the situation, rain gear was thrown on and the work day started at maybe 4:15 AM. Later that early morning, a simple breakfast of hot chocolate and oatmeal consumed next to a small cedar swamp perched on the mountain warmed my body and mind to the point where I was once again reminded that easy and welcoming are not necessarily in the lexicon of wild places. The outdoors is like an inside fastball from a hard-throwing pitcher or a solid hit from someone in football or hockey; it can assert itself in a hurry and let you know it’s here to play for real – and I like that. The Moosehead Lake region is not the Brooks Range of Alaska, but it has the space, terrain, and weather to show you who’s in charge.
While it is not determined yet whether the area mentioned above on Lily Bay Mt. will have trails created through this process, it is becoming clear that the #4 Mt. Trail will expand southwards towards Baker Mt. (#4 Mt., Lily Bay Mt., and Baker Mt. all radiate from one another with Lily Bay being the easternmost of the three). In working on trail layout, permitting, and construction oversight, I had the chance to encounter a number of moose antler sheds in this very moosey area. Seeing these sheds in varying degrees of decay, whether chewed by porcupines or half-buried in moss and lichen is always inspirational. A shed antler slowly melding like watercolor into a well-wet page of sphagnum and spruce seedlings imparts a sense of timeless wildness and vitality. To see this is to get a real feeling of what this region is.
Other Moosehead Lake Region trail project areas also provided fond, emblematic memories in 2014. As an example, I recall the earthy smell of freshly exposed dirt along the new Eagle Rock Trail, which originates from a trailhead off the East Moore Bog Rd 5 miles in the Little Moose Public Lands. In particular, I think of a spot roughly halfway along the trail where a side-hill (bench-like pathway across a slope) was cut around the side of a hill. The rich smell of soil mingled with aroma from freshly trimmed balsam limbs and low cut stumps to create an irresistibly woodsy perfume. Enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of this winding corridor as it progressed miles through the woods to several stunning vistas stands out as a 2014 highlight for sure. Again, the Moosehead Lake Region is a nice patch to explore.
Though there are a multitude of other 2014 experiences I could recount, I think I’ll close this piece with appreciation for some of the people I worked with this year. Certainly, the advisory committee that provides invaluable planning feedback deserves recognition as does the project partner, Plum Creek. So too does the staff at Lily Bay State Park that provided a home base for several trail crews. Additionally, the state soil scientist and the Maine Natural Areas Program deserve thanks for field work to evaluate ecological implications of potential trail locations. What really comes to mind, though, are the trail crews who work in often less than ideal conditions to serve society by creating opportunities for us all to enjoy the gifts of the natural world. The Maine Conservation Corps and Appalachian Mountain Club trail crews working on trails in this project employed their hard labor along with their work ethic and creativity to create and enhance roughly 7 miles of hiking trails in the Moosehead Lake Region. Even more trail work will unfold in the next few years and these trail crews working and living as a team weeks at a time will continue to leave a legacy in the state.