Stewardship, volunteering contributing to healthy trails
BY BEN GOODRIDGE
Times Record Staff
Irene Syphers spends most of her days deep in the woods, shovel or pick ax in hand, the current trail work project on her mind.
Though she has put in many hours of hard work this summer, she doesn’t want her work to be noticeable. Syphers said that trail work is meant to uphold the natural beauty of the land, while making access easy and presentable.
“I don’t want people even knowing I’ve been here,” said Syphers, who is in the midst of a 10-week summer steward internship with the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that oversees the upkeep of hiking trails in the southern Midcoast. “But if you do see me, I’ll put you to work,”
Syphers recently was building a water bar at Skofield Preserve in Brunswick near Middle Bay salt marsh on Tuesday. Syphers said the water bar would help transfer water across the trail so it doesn’t flood.
Program coordinator Caroline Eliot said stewards like Syphers promotes the growth of their volunteer program.
“Irene is great about mobilizing any resources she gets,” said Eliot, who brings in volunteer stewards to assist with projects.
Some common volunteer stewards include Apogee Adventures youth, made up of kids aged 11-14. There are also high schoolers who want to serve the community, Bowdoin College students and retirees who sign up online. BTLT also shares summer stewards with Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, a relationship that Eliot champions.
“I think it’s a really effective way of sharing resources,” said Eliot. “This is the fifth or sixth year we’ve been working with them. There’s a lot of partnering going on between non-profits these days.”
Byron Scheudt, a steward at KELT, was on hand to assist Syphers in water bar construction on Tuesday.
“This is the first time I’ve done work with (BTLT),” said Scheudt. “We like to help out (BTLT) any way we can, even if it’s lending each other tools.”
Another large trail project is taking place at Chase Reserve on Bunganuc Road in Brunswick, a 194-acre easement property.
“It’s a backwoods trail with a lot of deer, moose and other animals,” said Syphers. “We’re using a grip hoist to take down a big blow-down there tomorrow.”
Additionally, Syphers spent a day putting up signs at Chase Reserve last week, and spends “copious amounts of hours assessing the trails there.”
“Every project takes a lot of work,” said Syphers. “You spend hours before the project emailing and coordinating, gather your materials, carry everything out to the site. A project that takes a day in the field actually takes two days. That’s why more volunteers are great. I can’t move all of this stuff myself.”
But with projects like the Chase Reserve, BTLT is starting to see the fruits of its labor.
“It’s rewarding to get a piece of land that has nothing and transform it, watch the people show up,” said Eliot. “Since Chase Reserve is an easement property it adds a whole different layer.”
Eliot said that BTLT owns most of their land outright, but easement properties allow them to work with the landowners to make sure they’re aware of all changes.
“There’s a wonderful landowner at Chase who is great to work with,” said Eliot. “There are a lot of dimensions to this that people don’t see.”
And though Syphers said that her best work blends in with nature, she does stop to admire her achievements every now and then.
“It’s very satisfying to build a bog bridge and walk across it for the first time,” Syphers said.