Archive for category: Stewardship

Woodward Cove Trail Opens Up

By Connor Rockett

A little over two weeks ago, the land stewards from BTLT and Kennebec Estuary Land Trust completed a new trail for public use at the Woodward Cove property, located on Gurnet Road in Brunswick. After multiple scouting visits and a surprise discovery of some (very large) poison ivy patches, we cut a winding, lollipop-shaped route just under a mile long. A relatively short trail featuring gentle hills, an upturned rootmass, and apple trees, it is a wonderful spot to spend a few moments in peaceful reflection or to stretch the legs and get some fresh air after a long day.  All of us at the Land Trust are glad to see this trail open to the community and we hope you will enjoy it!

As I mentioned earlier, the unexpected appearance of poison ivy posed some problems. After having scouted and flagged an initial route, Margaret and I returned a week before the planned start of trail cutting only to find that an expansive patch had sprung up. It was unclear whether we would be able to build the trail. In what ended up being a great example of the creative problem solving involved in stewardship work, we devised a new route that included the interesting features of the property, all while avoiding sensitive wetland areas and the poison ivy.

The problem solving process was simple but effective: people observing, thinking, and communicating to find a better route. All that it entailed was 5 of us working on the ground, weighing options, relying on past experiences, and envisioning alternatives. That collaborative creativity allowed us to avoid the poison ivy, without having to resort to using costly and disruptive herbicides. It was place-based problem solving for community wellness in action (wooh!). So that being said, the next time you’re out on the Woodward Cove trail, hopefully you’ll be reminded of just how much can be accomplished by a small group of ordinary people with a common goal in mind!

Connecting to the land at the Community Garden

By Connor Rockett

I ended my last post talking about the importance of hands-on interaction with the land. It was this type of engagement with nature, which was built into the lives of our ancestors through farming and a deeper, less transient connection to place, that caused them to understand their dependence on the land and the meaning of a healthy, thoughtful relationship with it. That they articulated the importance of this relationship through their cultural production demonstrates that their ideas about nature were authentic and valuable and that our modern willingness to manipulate and degrade nature for the sake of production at all costs should not be taken for granted or seen as the way we have always operated with respect to our environment.

 

Since our industrial economy has alienated us from the land and told us that we can live above nature, we have largely forgotten how to relate to our surroundings in a way that is healthy and long-lasting. Alienation from the land, the fact that, for many of us, our way of living is (seemingly) separated from it, has made us blind to our dependence on it. Only through the observed and looming environmental catastrophes have more and more of us started to recognize that ecosystemic health cannot be wholly divorced from human health; that the two are linked in a complex relationship. But if, in the industrial economy, it takes loss of life and untold suffering to recognize this dependence, then it is already too late and we cannot say that we have a way to live, in the sense of staying alive. We have to build a different economy that causes us to live in accordance with this dependence. Such an economy will both nourish our bodies and spirits and allow us to survive on Earth.

The theme of building that land-friendly economy has been the focus of the last two blog posts and that is what I am leading up to in this one. Since the vast majority of us do not have an attentive engagement with the land, as our ancestors did, we struggle to understand it and to feel connected to it. Relearning this understanding of the land and reconnecting to it are, in my opinion, important for us collectively to be able to envision how a land-friendly economy should function and to know why we should have one. When many of us have the necessary understanding of and connection to the land, we can move towards a land-friendly economy as a community. Since no single one of us is able to, or should, decide on how to reshape our way of living, efforts to spread understanding and connection to the land are the basis for democratic, community-wide action to build a land-friendly economy.

I was lucky to contribute to the Land Trust’s efforts to foster hands-on understanding and affection for the land this week at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden when working with volunteers from Apogee Adventures. The volunteers and staff from BTLT divided up to tackle various tasks at the garden. I worked with two volunteers and, while we were weeding the strawberry rows, one of them said “I’m glad to be getting my hands dirty, it feels like I’m actually doing something.” That experience of investment and fulfillment in working the garden is just the type of engagement that will be the basis for orienting communities towards a more land-friendly way of life. It was clear from the vibrant and flourishing plots throughout the garden that those who work them have invested a great deal of love and care into them. Again, that is the type of interaction with the land, both educational and loving, that is needed to deepen our connection to it and I’m so glad to see that happening at the community garden.

Solving Problems

By Connor Rockett

I spent this past week working with the four members of the Regional Field Team – a group of land stewards based out of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust who spend a week at a time helping different land trusts in the area tackle projects. In just four days together, we built a new trail at Woodward Cove (which you should go visit!) and mapped invasive plants at Crystal Spring Farm. These two projects were significant tasks but the RFT had an incredible work ethic and we completely finished both of them.

Working as a team provided the opportunity to discuss different viewpoints and problem-solving approaches. It was important for me to see how the RFT stewards work and to learn from their experience with trail-building. All in all, the exchange of ideas and the insights they brought to our daily tasks made for a rich learning experience in stewardship and problem-solving generally. It was inspiring to be working with such a dedicated, thoughtful crew. I’m sure they will go on to make important contributions in environmental protection.

Speaking of problem-solving, last week I asked “what would a land-friendly economy look like?” One way to begin answering this question might be to think about which structural, systemic features it would not have. Working from the lessons we’ve learned about the negative effects of our industrial economy on the environment (and, therefore, our health) and tracing those effects back to their causes, we should be better able to define a land-friendly economy. From this negative, exclusionary start to our definition, the positive, creative process of defining a land-friendly economy will be more manageable. Having determined which aspects it could not have, we will have a place to start thinking about the institutions and forms of economic life that will replace the environmentally destructive ones.

What’s more, that positive process can also be informed by our past. Using the environmental ideas that have been transmitted throughout our cultural history as well as those that come from elsewhere, we can reflect on and re-learn the attitudes that helped our ancestors to have a closer relationship with nature. In connection with those attitudes, we should also think about the economies and societies that fostered them to see aspects of past ways of life that might be included or, more likely, modified in our way of living in the future. Without romanticizing our past or elevating one culture over another, we can still learn from the thoughts and practices of our ancestors to be better prepared to come closer to nature. Implicit in this approach is a critical attitude towards the notion of “progress.”

Finally, the ingenuity and problem solving of people like you, me, and the members of the RFT – people who seek an attentive understanding of the land and how we relate to it – will be another crucial element in constructing a land-friendly economy. Going out and building a trail or mapping invasive plants or tending a plot at the community garden, getting hands-on experience with the environment teaches us how to solve problems related to it and, ultimately, what our relationship should be with it. By doing this kind of work, we understand the land, where we fit in the pattern of it all, and what a healthy degree of give and take looks like between us and our surroundings. These were the types of experiences that, when they were shared across the community, helped our ancestors to develop complex, subtle theories of our place within nature. While studying and relating to those ideas in a second-hand way, whether they are contained in sutras or parables or oral traditions, is useful, it should also push us to acquire that wisdom through our own experiential learning. With that wisdom, we can better determine how our economy should be structured and how we should live.

Volunteer Connections

By Connor Rockett

On Monday, Margaret and I headed out with two volunteers to assess a bridge at the Skolfield Preserve. It was great to connect with the volunteers, who were enthusiastic about the work of the Land Trust and environmentalism in general, and we had a wide-ranging discussion about society and its relationship with the natural world. At the start of our visit to the preserve, one of the volunteers said to me “You see,Connor, the more you do this kind of work, the more you see that everything is connected.” I told him he had an ecologist’s perspective and was glad to hear him share this idea, which is at the heart of so much thinking on the environment and on approaches to reshaping our relationship to it. From there, I knew we had similar interests and on the way back from the visit we began discussing them. We touched on quite a few issues, from the environmental and social consequences of industrial farming carried out by state planners, to the relevance of Karl Marx’s ideas about the influence of wealth on democracies and the distribution of power. Pretty heavy stuff!

As we were wrapping up, one of the final comments the volunteer made was, “I’m attracted to Marx’s idea that, of all the things that influence human societies, the economy is a big one.” Without making any particular claims about the final importance of the economy over any other factor in shaping our actions, this to me is an important insight for solving the environmental problems we face today. If our behaviors are destroying the natural world, then we should reflect on the determinants of those behaviors (in the example offered by the volunteer, one of the most important determinants being the economy) and how we might go about changing those determinants in order to produce healthier behaviors across our society. The question to think about is then how do we transition to an economy that is conducive to environmental sustainability, that causes us to have a closer, healthier relationship to the natural world? What would this economy look like? This is certainly nothing new, plenty of environmental thinkers have made arguments about these ideas in the past but I too am convinced of the importance of developing a land-friendly economy (as well as other cultural, social, and political forms) whose structural influences will help us to live in greater harmony with our surroundings and in better health. It was from the conversation with the volunteer that I started thinking more about the importance of a land-friendly economy.

Having these discussions and being in the community of environmentally conscious people at the Land Trust have been wonderful aspects of this job. It’s uplifting to be around people who are thinking seriously about how we can get from where we are to where we want to be, with respect to the environment, right here in Brunswick. I’m glad and thankful to be connected with and learning from those people. Ultimately, the more of us that connect over these ideas and goals, the sooner we’ll be able to make something happen!

Once we got back to the office, the volunteer said, “I’ve lectured too much!” For me, I could’ve spent the rest of the day listening to him and am looking forward to having more conversations like the one we had.

GIS Mapping & Trail Markers

By Connor Rockett

One of the highlights of this past week was getting to work on GIS mapping. GIS is a program that helps design maps and incorporate a wide range of information into them. I worked with GPS data for a map of the Crystal Spring Farm trails and drafted a map of the upcoming Woodward Cove preserve. Since getting introduced to the program at the start of my internship in mid-June, I’ve started to get the hang of it little by little. Given the importance of GIS to environmental organizations, the experience I’ve gotten with it is useful for going further into this field of work.

I finished my week by eliminating old, faded trail markers at Cathance River Nature Preserve. Elimination blazing can take a lot out of you – between dealing with mosquitoes and scratching at tree bark, it takes some grit to push through it! If you get into a groove with it, your mind wanders off to think about whatever while you work – in that sense it can also be a relaxing task. What’s more, working outside in the beauty of the Maine summer is always uplifting.  Heading out of the trail system with sore arms and back, I was glad to have put in an honest day’s work and took my exhaustion as a good sign.

Over the course of the week, I again got to experience the variety of tasks involved in stewardship; on any given day, I might be working with mapping software or outside improving trails. Both types of work teach different skills and require different ways of solving problems that come up. All in all, I’m grateful to be spending my summer doing this diverse, varied work.

Exploring BTLT’s Newest Conservation Success

View of the Cathance River from the newly conserved Tardiff Property.

The Tardiff Property in Topsham will soon provide diverse recreational resources to the public.

By Susan Olcott

This season, I am thankful for places that are wild and muddy. And, there’s a place just outside of town that will soon be open to the public that fits that bill – a rare combination of wetlands, rivers, forest, and even vernal pools. It is home to unusual species such as the Least Bittern and Parker’s Pipewort. Timber was cut there for many years and a 19th century farmhouse looks over it all. And, on a crisp November morning, my girls and I had a rare opportunity to explore it with Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s (BTLT) Executive Director, Angela Twitchell.

The first frost glistened on crisp leaves crunching under foot and tiny stalagmites of ice poked up from the mud around frozen pools at the base of uprooted trees. We clambered over an old road down to the shores of the river to squish on low tide mud and discover bubbles trapped in windows of ice jaggedly arranged amidst the marsh grasses.

So, where is this? You may not have heard of the Muddy River before, but you are more likely to be familiar with the Cathance River. The Cathance runs through a stellar series of trails managed by BTLT and the Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA). Nestled between the Cathance and the Muddy Rivers is a parcel of land in Topsham that has been privately owned for years by the Tardiff family.

The family lived in a historic home on the property and when surrounding lands began to be developed into neighborhoods, they started thinking about ways to keep their land free from development. This led them to BTLT, which has been working to conserve areas around the Cathance River for years. The Land Trust has been slowly building a network of 20 properties along the river, now totaling over 1,000 acres. These properties provide wildlife corridors and an important natural buffer to keep clean the rivers that flow into Merrymeeting Bay. The Tardiff property helps to provide a critical missing connection between two Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife properties – the Merrymeeting Bay Wildlife Management Area and the Muddy River Wildlife Management Area.

Exploring at Tardiff.

When the Tardiff Family offered to sell the 121-acre parcel to BTLT, the Land Trust was thrilled to have this opportunity. With the support of grants from Maine’s Natural Resource Conservation Program and the Merrymeeting Bay Trust, BTLT completed the purchase this fall.

As we walked down the old woods road, we began to envision how the property might be used. Perhaps a loop trail stemming from a parking area off Route 24 could lead visitors across the old farm fields, into the woods, and along the shores of the Cathance. But, this is only half the property – on the other side of the road, there could be a similar set of trails leading to the Muddy River. What a neat opportunity to explore two rivers across a historic piece of farmland.

We were lucky to get a sneak peak at the property, but it won’t be too long before it will be accessible to the public. BTLT will be working over the next year and a half or so, aiming to have trails ready for exploration in the Spring of 2019. In the meantime, this coming Spring I plan to visit it again by water, as Angela described you could do by kayak starting at the Head of Tide property, passing the Tardiff land, and ending at the Bowdoinham Town Landing. In the meantime, I am thankful for the opportunity to imagine how this property will take shape and become another jewel in the crown of protected lands around Merrymeeting Bay.