By Joe Rankin
Forests for Maine's Future Writer
Cathy Goslin vividly remembers a first grader visiting the re-created lumbering settlement of Leonard's Mills on a children's day not so long ago. The little girl parked herself by a woolly little lamb and stayed there. For hours.
“She didn't realize they were real animals. She thought they were just pictures in a book,” said Goslin, the executive director of the living history project in Bradley. “One of the things that keeps me going is when we have visitors come in and we assume they know what something is or what we're doing and they're just standing there in awe, like 'I never saw this before.' ”
You can tour the Maine Forest and Logging Museum at Leonard's Mills pretty much any time during the year, but on special days from April through October as many as 100 re-enactors and a similar number of supporting volunteers bring Leonard's Mills to life, tackling tasks common at the time – blacksmithing, spinning, running a water-powered sawmill, rowing a bateaux, taking care of livestock.
Located on 400 acres in Bradley, once the site of a real pioneer settlement on Blackman Stream, Leonard's Mills is one of the premier places to learn about the state's storied logging and lumbering history. It recreates a logging community of the 1790s, but also carries that history forward into the 1900's with a Lombard log hauler, a shingle mill, rotary sawmill, a machine shop and other exhibits from a later, more mechanized era of lumbering.
Goslin said the living history aspect of the project is key. “It gets visitors involved,” she said. “We purposely stay from those more static displays of collections and so forth. We want to show how those tools and other things were used.”
It's not surprising that Maine, the most heavily forested state in the nation and one with a long and rich history of forestry and lumbering, should also be rich in places where you can learn about that history, Maine's forest ecosystems, and modern logging and lumbering methods.
There are easily a dozen museums, arboretums, field days, nature trail systems, even a fall guided hiking program and an online tree club that aim to educate Mainers and others about the woods. On any given day through much of the year you can find something to do and much to learn at them.
They range from Leonard's Mills' living history format to the Maine State Museum's impressive exhibit on Maine's lumbering history. From Viles Arboretum's nature trails and groves of American chestnuts, conifers, ashes and larches to the Maine Tree Farm/SWOAM field day to the Forest Heritage Days celebration in Greenville.
Together they draw thousands upon thousands of people every year. Leonard's Mills alone sees some 7,000 visitors a year; 1,200 to 1,500 during its October living history weekend, said Goslin. Viles Arboretum, a 224-acre expanse of woods and fields in the heart of Maine's capital city, gets 15,000 visitors a year, said Executive Director Mark DesMeules.
They come to Viles to visit the American chestnut grove, the ash or larch collections, the Space Shuttle Pines – planted from seeds that once traveled into space. To visit the huge old maple known as The General, paint watercolors of the pond, or watch birds. Plus, Viles with its numerous trail loops is a great place to go for a walk and clear the stale office air out of your lungs, as harried workers in nearby state office buildings know.
“Our collections are embedded in a matrix of native Maine forest of a variety of different types,” said DesMeules. “It's a great outdoor classroom. When a class says we want to learn about trees we can show them trees native to Maine. And, tell them, incidentally we have some trees from Kazakhstan. The Kazakhstan trees are the ancestors of our apples. But the native trees and native ecology is a real big focus. We offer a lot of programs on native ecology. Because that's what the local schools want. And we're right here in their backyard.”
“It's a gateway introduction to what's out there in Maine. What I mean by that is a family can come here and learn about Maine forests and the roles of different trees and also learn about other places to go. But it's designed to show people, engage people and educate people about Maine and Maine forests.”
Viles is in the midst of makeover of sorts. They're redoing the visitor center lobby with mounts of Maine forest animals, including an impressive moose already in place. A new brochure is soon to be published. There's a full-color map coming, new interpretive signs are to be installed this summer, a new botanical labeling machine will soon be put into production, and new landscaping for the entrance is planned.
“We're going to have some amazing roll-outs this summer,” enthuses DesMeules, who said that the Arboretum improvements are designed to elevate it from being a local arboretum to a state destination.
Exhibits on the state's logging and lumbering heritage were among the first incorporated into the new Maine State Museum building across the Kennebec River from Viles Arboretum and are still hugely popular, said Museum Deputy Director Sheila McDonald.
Among them is a 1920 vintage gasoline-powered Lombard log hauler once used in the Allagash. It went on display in the early 1980s. Projected nearby are excerpts from the film “From Stump to Ship.” The museum expanded its logging and lumbering exhibit in 1986, adding an up-and-down sawmill, a circular saw mill built around 1900 and a clapboard saw. At the same time it added an 1846 Lion steam locomotive that worked for nearly fifty years as part of Washington County’s Whitneyville & Machias Railroad transporting tens of millions of board feet of lumber from mills to ships in Machiasport for shipment all over the world.
“The logging and lumbering exhibits are still very popular for visitors of all ages,” said McDonald. “The Lombard and Lion, particularly, are large and dramatic. Many older visitors remember the Lombard and its connections to Maine inventor Alvin Lombard of Waterville.”
Complementing the big ticket items, however, are the more mundane and personal: a pair of caulked boots, chain saws, peaveys, cant dogs, Emerson and Stevens axes, and many historical photographs. Visitors, of which the Museum sees 50,000 a year, “easily relate to these objects, which have such an important, personal dimension,” she said.
The L.C. Bates Museum of Natural History at the Goodwill-Hinckley School in Fairfield houses a fascinating and eclectic collection in the style of a 19th century museum.
In the mammal and bird rooms, beautiful dioramas by American impressionist painter Charles Hubbard combine with period taxidermy mounts to show native species and their habitats. Outside, eight miles of nature trails wind through the campus' woods and fields.
The museum tries to uses the exhibits, collections and programs to promote an understanding of our Maine habitat, its preservation and stewardship,” said Director Deborah Staber. “Behind the museum are the nature trails. It's an indoor-outdoor experience when you come here.”
The diormas are unique because they're in the impressionistic style, Staber said. One of the largest “shows Caratunk and Pleasant Pond, with bears; the caribou, now extinct in Maine; and the white-tailed deer. The dioramas depict a real variety of animals and birds from the smallest chipmunks and mice to moose and things like that.”
The bird diormas are also interactive: they offer visitors the chance to hear, by pressing a button, the call of each bird. L.C. Bates runs spring nature walks and three-hour bird programs for children and groups that include such things as dissecting owl pellets and handling feathers. The museum is also doing its bit to educate people about invasive species, with its Asian long-horned beetle exhibit.
Kevin Doran, a natural science educator with the Maine Forest Service, said Mainers have a significant number of opportunities to educate themselves about the forest and the role it has played in the state over the past four centuries.
Most stress “the historical aspect and importance that forests have played in Maine on many different levels,” Doran said. “If the displays are from a teaching standpoint, a teacher could take some of the connections from there and talk about the history or what was happening culturally at that time. If you go to a logging museum and they're showing a newsreel about the log drives you're going to look at the Kennebec River differently when you're out there.”
And what's most important, he emphasized, is to take it “out there,” into the community forests, the school forests, the state parks, Baxter State Park; into wildlife refuges and the trails of the state's public reserved lands. To take what you learn into the woods.
“We have 18 million acres of trees in this state. To have access to that much woods is really unique. We always stress the opportunity for kids and adults to get outside. The real connection, the emotional connection is made when you're out there. I don't want to diminish being inside or learning things online, but nothing is like being out there,” Doran said.
Some more places to learn about the Maine forest:
Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum. On State Route 16 in Rangeley, is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from late June to early September. On exhibit are hundreds of logging artifacts, including snubbing machines, a collection of crosscut and chainsaws, a forerunner of the skidder, and one of the last of the bateaux used on the Dead River log drives. The museum also includes art by western Maine lumbermen, including “fan towers,” miniature wood carvings, chainsaw carvings and oil paintings. There is also a two-day Logging Festival Days celebration in Rangeley the last full weekend in July.
Patten Lumbermen's Museum. On the Shin Pond Road in Patten, it preserves the record of pre-World War II lumbering in the North Maine Woods. Nine buildings house such things as a Lombard log hauler, Holt tractors, vintage logging tools, and models and dioramas that give you a sense of the lumbering camps and activities of yore.
Processing logs from the northern forests helped build the Penobscot River town of Old Town, and exhibits on the logging and lumbering industry are among the permanent exhibits at the Old Town Museum, located at 353 Main Street.
The gardens at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay offer a stunning destination for gardeners, but several of the Garden's trails wend through native coastal forest. The Garden offers courses in planting with native plants and native plant ecology, as well as a certificate program in native plants and ecological horticulture.
Greenville's Forest Heritage Days has been held since 1991 and this year runs from Aug. 10-12. The festival celebrates Maine's “working forest” and includes bus tours of woodlots, demonstrations by the Colby College Woodsmen, and the Game of Logging, where certified professional loggers battle it out in events such as the “bore cut,” saw chain filing, and precision felling.
Maine Tree Farm/SWOAM Field Day will be held Sept. 8 at the Bethel tree farm of Ernest and Alberta Angevine, the state's 2012 Outstanding Tree Farmers. The day includes woodlot tours and talks and demonstrations on a variety of forestry-related topics.
The 4,200-acre Penobscot Experimental Forest in Bradley and Eddington is a research laboratory for scientists and forestry experts, but the average person with an interest in forest management can learn a lot there about how different management techniques play out over time.
Massabesic Experimental Forest in Alfred and Lyman covers 3,600 acres. It too is a center for long-term forestry research, but has several miles of trails through different forest ecosystems.
Guided Fall Foliage Outings. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and the Maine Forest Service offer a series of guided hikes, rides and paddles during the fall foliage season. All trips are family friendly and park rangers and professional foresters explain the wonders of the color change.
Gilsland Farm is a 65-acre sanctuary on the Presumpscot Estuary and the headquarters of Maine Audubon. There is a modern environmental center and trails wind through fields, wetlands and forest. Programs are offered year round.
Maine Tree Club is designed to teach people about trees, forest ecosystems, and the value of the forest. Participants register online. They learn about 50 tree species over two years through two “tree fact sheets” each month and outings that cover things such as tree identification, pruning, forest pests, and forest ecosystems.
Joe Rankin lives in New Sharon with his wife, Mary, and their three dogs. He keeps 50 hives of bees, does market gardening and writes on forestry topics.