How was the MOFGA Forest Management Event with Steve Pelletier?

By Nick Whatley, BTLT Board Member

On September 14, a group of 25 folks gathered at Crystal Spring Farm for a forest walk with MOFGA and BTLT to discuss forest management strategies with added emphasis on carbon storage and sequestration. Our guide was Steve Pelletier, a seasoned ecologist and license forester, who shared his perspective grown from a lifetime of forest ecology management. He gave us all plenty to think about when it comes to carbon, and the key takeaway when creating a forest management plan is that the answer always starts with “it depends”. When considering management strategies it is important to recognize at the start that we are entering an already existing system and must establish a clear understanding of our goals before making decisions that will affect the forest. At Crystal Spring Farm, we have the existing goals of recreational trail use, forest ecosystem health, and control of invasives. With the acute awareness that many of us now have of the climate crisis and the necessity of taking effective action, forest carbon storage and sequestration has come to the forefront of forest management goals.

So how can we balance these goals?

Steve showed us a little bit about how to read a forest by asking lots of questions. What kind of trees are growing? Is the canopy overly dense or just right? What does the understory look like? What creatures are living there? Are there cavity trees that are providing shelter for birds? Are there older less healthy trees that can be removed in order to release younger trees below? What, if any, is the commercial value of trees that may be cut? In many cases, Steve pointed out that a tree may have more value decomposing on the forest floor or left standing both to soil health and wildlife habitat.

Steve also explained carbon sequestration in the forest. There is a finite amount of sunlight in any given area that can contribute to photosynthesis. Plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to sugars that feed the tree and flow through to the root system and soil as well. The healthier this system is, the better the result. In short, carbon sequestration is the removal of CO2 from the air and the storage takes place as plant tissue (wood) and soil hummus. Forests are already providing this important “service” and perhaps we can contribute to greater carbon sequestration with improved management plans.

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New Crushed Stone Pathway on Vernal Pool Trail at CRNP

By George Jutras, BTLT Land Steward
The Land Trust’s stewardship team has been hard at work for the last few weeks finishing up a much-needed infrastructure project on the Vernal Pool Trail at Cathance River Nature Preserve! The Vernal Pool Trail connects Rensenbrink Dr to the Highland Trail near the CREA Ecology Center as it runs through forest, over ledge, and by some wetland areas. A long series of old rotten bog bridges were first removed with the help of two Bowdoin College student volunteer groups, then the surface was prepped for the construction of a 120 foot crushed stone pathway. A crushed stone pathway is preferable to bog bridging in this area primarily due to the longevity of the materials. Bog bridges in the soil type found at CRNP can be only expected to last 2-3 years, and the crushed stone pathway should last significantly longer.
The pathway required digging and smoothing of the muddy soil to create a stable surface to build on, then the laying out of a geotextile fabric to help hold the foundational layers together. Next, 6 to 12 inch rocks were carefully placed in a strong jigsaw pattern to hold the ever-shifting path as it lives through future seasons of freeze and thaw cycles. After several layers of this careful stonework (known as rip-rap), a few final layers of gravel were spread on top to fill in gaps and create a smooth walking surface.
A huge THANK YOU to our many incredible stewardship volunteers who truly carried this project – without you we wouldn’t be able to tackle these amazing infrastructure projects!

A Walk at 250th Anniversary Park

By Lydia Coburn, BTLT Communications Coordinator

I recently had the pleasure of having BTLT Board Member Doug Bennett walk me around a very special parcel of land right here in Brunswick, Maine. We met at 250th Anniversary Park on an overcast morning, where he shared with me its rich architectural history, unique biodiversity, and a checkered past.

I parked across the street in the mill parking lot, carefully crossed the busy road leading to the old green bridge, and found my feet on a grassy patch of open space. Beautiful flowers were planted around the property and the view of the Androscoggin was spectacular, yet upon first glance it truly appears to be a fairly forgotten little piece of land.

The 1.5 acre park is located just below the Brookfield Renewable Energy hydroelectric dam on the bank of the Androscoggin River. It was purchased by the Land Trust, and given to the Town of Brunswick with an easement retained. If you google 250th Anniversary Park, you will find minimal information. Mostly directions, its primary uses (scenic overlook; bird watching; picnicking; fishing), etc.

Doug appeared as I was scampering around taking photos of bugs on the flowers; we exchanged pleasantries, then sat down on one of the park’s benches.

He explained that in 1989 the town decided to designate “this little pocket of a park with a gorgeous view of the river” as ‘250th Anniversary Park,’ celebrating the founding of the town in 1739, the year the Massachusetts General Court approved Brunswick’s incorporation. However, what was a victory for white settlers in 1739, represented a traumatic loss for the Native people whose livelihood and vitality relied heavily on access to the Androscoggin.

As we walked a bit further into the property, we came across a small bronze plaque that read “Historic Site: When the Abenaki were the sole inhabitants of this land, the water here was called Ammoscoggin. The word means ‘Fish coming in Spring.’” Doug stared at the plaque with disappointment as he continued to share more of this land’s true past.

“This is just such an important site that you can look at and say ‘well, it’s a pretty empty place, where you see the river’ but if you have a historical imagination [you can see] the whole history of the passage of time: the pushing away of the Wabanaki, the coming of white settlement, and the building of many small mills right on this plot of land. For a long while there was no bridge, and then the building of a bridge…” Not to mention the dam – which was essentially a death sentence for the Native communities who fished its waters. Doug hopes that one day, we can more fully honor the creation of our current towns, including the seasonal Native American encampments that were here long before us. 

The very land that our feet were standing on was the “epicenter of the coming of two towns, and the crossing between them,” says Doug. It was a reflective moment looking out to what once was a thriving river with abundant salmon, shad, sturgeon, and alewife, lush forest along the water’s edge, and the Wabanaki coming to fish and trade. I was trying to imagine the conflict that raged on for years between the settlers and the Native people, the building of the dam, and the development of lumber mills. I looked at the Seadog Brewery, mills filled with art galleries and office spaces, and a bustling bridge with cars zooming by. We commented on how every piece of land holds a story, encompassing both triumph and loss.

Taking a step away from the historical significance of 250th Anniversary Park, we took some time to acknowledge and appreciate the biodiversity that exists there. Doug and I watched the river intently waiting for the massive, prehistoric-looking sturgeon to leap like “polaris rockets completely out of the water to clear their gills.” I shrieked with glee (my first sturgeon experience) as Doug chuckled at me saying “Welcome to the Crossing!”

Doug told me some of the birds we may come across at the Park include osprey, eagles, kingfishers, great blue heron, and ducks. He shared that back in the day, when Maine’s economy was reliant on the paper industry, the Androscoggin River was horrendously contaminated. “Some of the older folks in town will say that it was so dirty, that crossing the bridge you’d have to cover your nose, the stench was so bad,” says Doug, “You’d have to repaint your house every couple years, because the acid from the river would peel the paint!” At the time, US Senator Ed Muskie began to realize that the future of Maine was in recreation, not paper. In an act of political courage, he switched from supporting the paper industry, to becoming a floor manager to pass the Clean Water Act in 1972. Today, the river is a bit cleaner than it used to be, though it still needs a lot of work. Click here for some photos of the river from the 1970s. 

“The Crossing,” as Doug calls it, has an incredible untold story that he, and now I, believe is worth telling. If you’re interested in reading more about its history, Click here to read Doug’s full written piece.

A Walk at Little River Preserve

By Lydia Coburn, BTLT Communications Coordinator

The sweetest little oasis just off a major road, Little River Preserve is one of my new favorite properties. This week, BTLT Land Steward George Jutras met me in the parking lot off the side of Lewiston Road in Topsham. At first glance you can see glimpses of the river through the trees and a bit of a trail. You hear the sound of cars rushing by on their way to and from Lisbon.

George and I chatted by the side of his truck as he got his fishing gear in order – a dry fly, his pole, and extra supplies in his Flow Fold fanny pack. He told me this was most likely his favorite BTLT property; he looked excited to be there.

As we walked along the trail, we chatted about invasive species, the various reasons people use the trail, and how/why the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stock the river. George explained that about 500 brook trout and 300 brown trout were released into the Little River back in April. He suspected they’d all been fished out by now, but he wanted to try his luck anyway. As I watched him cast his line in the still water, I thought about what makes our “favorite places” our “favorite places.” In George’s opinion, it requires a repetition of positive experiences in the same space. Though, plenty of folks find themselves somewhere new for the first time and it instantly becomes one of their “favorite places.” Regardless of “favorite place” status, I asked him why we protect this relatively small parcel of land. George explained that the Little River is a Class B river – not quite as damaged as the Class C Androscoggin, but by protecting this property, and not letting it fall any lower than class B, we’re contributing to the conservation of other waterways in the area. 

As we continued further down the trail, the sounds of cars faded, and the pleasant sounds of the trickling river and chirping birds filled our ears. “It’s one of those properties where you can feel far away from civilization, but you’re not,” George said quietly. Sun shone through the tree canopy, lush green moss covered the rocks, a plethora of mushrooms sprinkled the forest floor, the river was serene. We looked up and saw a Great Blue Heron standing peacefully on a rock, also enjoying the quiet moment.

It goes without saying, I highly recommend a visit to the Little River Preserve. Open dawn to dusk, leashed dogs allowed. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, we did not catch any fish – perhaps next Spring!

Help us plan the Climate Change Series!

BTLT and CREA are planning a six-week virtual speaker series with the goal of inspiring individual and collective action. And we want your input! Please take a minute and fill out this quick survey!

Upcoming Public Meeting on Mare Brook

Whether you call it Mare, Mair, or Mere, your feedback is welcome on this urban impaired stream! As follow-up to a brook assessment grant completed in 2016, Brunswick was given a Maine DEP grant in 2019 to plan for the brook’s improvement – the upgrade in water quality and management is much needed, as BTLT Board Director Sandy Stott says, “It is [Brunswick’s] aquatic bloodstream; it is the brook that runs through us.” As the planning grant is coming to a close, there will be public meetings for anyone interested to hear the proposed plan for the Brook and provide input or ask questions. At this point in time, all meeting will be hosted over zoom. Links will be posted on the Brunswick calendar here.
Upcoming public meetings:
  • Sept. 23, 7 pm to 8:30 pm Televised meeting in Council Chambers: 1st Public meeting presentation of Mare Brook Watershed Management Plan Project, stream stressor analysis, and draft action items
    • Sept. 30: Public Comments requested for Stressor Analysis and Draft Action Items
  • Oct. 14: 5 pm to 6:30 pm Televised meeting in Council Chambers: 2nd Public meeting presentation of Draft Watershed Management Plan with Action Items Cost Estimates
    • Oct. 27: All (Public / Town Council) Comments due on draft Watershed Management Plan (WMP)
    • Nov. 10: Draft WMP sent to DEP
  • Dec. 6 or week of: Evening Meeting: 3rd and Final Public Meeting Presentation of Completed Plan

Curious to read more? Check out Stott’s latest writings on Mare Brook in the Press Herald and Times Record:

Mare Brook emerges from 3 culverts after its 2/3rds-mile passage beneath the Landing runways

 

 

BTLT Saturday Farmers’ Market Back at Crystal Spring Farm!

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Saturday Farmers’ Market has officially returned home to Crystal Spring Farm! We had a fantastic first Saturday there last week and look forward to being there for the remainder of the season.

“All the vendors are really excited about the return back to Crystal Spring Farm!” shares Julia St. Clair, BTLT Agricultural Programs Coordinator. “Though the local businesses around the Landing these past few months have been generous and welcoming, we all much prefer to be surrounded by agricultural land. It contributes to the community-feel of the Market in a really positive way, helping everyone understand and value where their food comes from.”

BTLT is committed to continuing to support our local farmers and food system and proud of how much the Market has grown in popularity over the years. While we all share in the excitement of returning the Market to its home, the Land Trust recognizes that the Crystal Spring Farm site does pose some challenges. Hosting a market on a working farm, means that space is constrained by land that is in active agriculture.

“Everyone loves being in this beautiful setting,” said BTLT Associate Director, Lee Cataldo, “but forgets that the land around the market has been conserved for agricultural purposes, not more parking.”

She also noted that the Land Trust continues to explore possibilities to alleviate parking congestion but there are no easy answers. BTLT asks that all visitors are patient when seeking parking, and are careful of other drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists along the road.

The Land Trust also expressed their sincere gratitude to Flight Deck Brewing, Wild Oats Café, the REAL School, and TBW, LLC. These local businesses have been exceedingly generous in hosting the market (free of charge) in their shared parking area at Brunswick Landing since the summer of 2020.

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Saturday Farmers’ Market will continue to run at Crystal Spring Farm from 8:30am-12:30pm every Saturday for the remainder of the market season.

New Mainers Garden a Blooming Success

Since we built ten raised garden beds for our New Mainer neighbors back in June, they have been well utilized and well loved!

Ana, Wewe, & Erica – photo by Kelli Park

ESL educator Kelli Park, who’s been working with the New Mainers for years, remarks: “The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Community Garden is so much more than just a garden. It offers a space for multicultural individuals to embrace their dynamic cultural identities by participating in traditions that were important to them in their lives in their native countries, while working toward building new traditions in their lives in Maine.

This space provides a foundation for New Mainers to construct their new, changing cultural identities in ways that empower them.

It provides the tools to work toward increased independence, while building a sense of community in healthy ways that connect to all aspects of their daily lives with cultivating and cooking.

Ana & Wewe’s children – photo by Kelli Park

“The creation of these kinds of spaces is absolutely essential in the work toward creating more equitable opportunities for individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Maine has the potential to leverage and cultivate multiculturalism within our communities to develop a new kind of dynamic population defined, in part, by the cultural influences that have arrived in our state from the far reaches of the globe. The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Community Garden for New Mainers is just one step in the right direction!”

Here’s what the New Mainers have to say…

Sivi – “I am really delighted because it helps us a lot to have very fresh produce and it’s good for the community. It helps my household in particular and it helps neighbors in the community. The community garden makes us independent in the sense that, if you need anything, you can harvest it directly.” 

Wewe – “I’m very thankful that the community gave us this space for the garden. I’m very happy to have planted vegetables because I like natural food a lot. The garden has made me more independent because, for example, if I need tomatoes, I go directly to my garden to get them. I don’t have to call anyone to help me get them.”

Bella – “There is nothing not to like about the community garden. I like planting. It’s very important to me. We Africans also like to cultivate so it is very important for the community. I can be independent with my own garden because I could grow whatever I want. . .Because I could plant the same things in the garden, like kikaza, [sweet] potato vines, gimboa, keca, and much more, it represents or connects to my life in Africa.”

Wewe & Blaise – photo by Kelli Park

Invasive Plants and Ecological Considerations on BTLT Properties

By George Jutras, BTLT Land Steward

“Invasive” species refer to a species that is not only not native to a particular area, but is actively displacing native species and changing the makeup of an ecosystem. While some invasives may garner headline-grabbing attention such as the European green crab marching along the Maine coastline, many other species of invasives, particularly plants, are slowly and quietly redefining the ecological niches they now inhabit.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry defines an invasive species if it carries these three characteristics:

  • Is not native to Maine;
  • Has spread (or has the potential to spread) into minimally managed plant communities (habitats);
  • Causes economic or environmental harm by developing self-sustaining populations that are dominant or disruptive to native species.

While invasive species can be found almost anywhere, plants fitting the MDACF definition are found most commonly and densely in areas at the margins of an ecological disturbance. Clear cuts, roadways, powerline corridors, housing developments, industrialized areas, and the margins of historic farmlands are all examples of lands that have experienced recent ecological disturbance. Like any plant species, invasives need an available ecological space, or niche, within an ecosystem in which to grow. It is after an ecological disturbance such as the clearing of land, when niches may be made available, that invasive species can often outcompete native species to recolonize an area.

A few Invasive Plant Species to Look Out For:

Norway Maple

Norway Maple Acer platanoides

The Norway maple is a native of northern Europe, but was introduced as a landscape tree in cities and suburban areas around the state as a fast-growing hardwood that provides a dense shade canopy. As a direct competitor with native Maine maple species (silver maple, red maple, and the beloved sugar maple), Norway Maple threatens these species in their own habitats by growing quickly and shading-out native saplings.

Asiatic Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus

Asiatic Bittersweet

Most iconic in late fall, Asiatic Bittersweet produces red berries with yellow covering that Mainers often make into festive holiday wreaths. Bittersweet was introduced as a landscape ornamental and historically spread by Maine DOT as fast-growing roadside cover for erosion control. Bittersweet seed is spread via bird droppings, but also through improper disposal of bittersweet wreaths (wreaths should be bagged and landfilled – or, preferably, not created or purchased at all). While Bittersweet climbs and eventually strangles trees, dense patches of the invasive species was also found in a 2011 study to harbor high tick populations.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowi)

Honeysuckle varieties Lonicera morrowi, tatarica, japonica,  and maacki

The several varieties of invasive honeysuckle share similar traits. A Tall shrubby plant (6-10ft), honeysuckle can be distinguished by its paired leaves and when a stem is broken, its hollow pith. Several native varieties of honeysuckle exist, including the mountain honeysuckle which is endangered in Maine. Maine native species are much shorter (only 1-2ft tall) and all Maine native species have an exclusively solid pith making them easily distinguishable from their invasive counterparts. Invasive honeysuckle outcompetes natives in similar ecosystems due to faster growth and greater height. This plant can also establish dense stands that limit the movement of wildlife.

Japanese Barberry Berberis thunbergii

Japanese Barberry is a distinctive shrub with oval leaflets and thorns along stems that produces red berries in the fall. Turkey and Grouse love these berries which aids in its spread via seed, although plant limbs that touch the ground can produce roots, which increases the density of established colonies. Japanese Barberry was brought to the US as a replacement for common barberry which can host stem wheat rust, a fungus that has historically had a severe impact on wheat crops. Barberry has the greatest ecological impact when it can proliferate to grow in dense colonies to crowd out native understory plants, eventually altering mature forest ecosystems.

Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive Elaeagnus umbellata

Autumn Olive is a tall treelike shrub (10-20’) with long thin leaves with silvery undersides and no relation to true olive trees. Autumn Olive produces red fruits that are commonly eaten by birds and mammals but are poor in nutritional value. A study noted by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension found that Autumn Olive fruit contributes to malnutrition in migratory bird populations. Autumn Olive also creates ecological concern primarily with changes to forest understory as it eventually creates an unnatural midstory in open mixed deciduous forests.

Multiflora or Rambler Rose Rosa multiflora

Rambler Rose

Multiflora Rose is a bushy shrub with thorny branches most visibly identifiable when blooming in June, and difficult to distinguish from native raspberry and blackberry in other months. The rose species produces white flowers and is distinct from all native roses which produce pink flowers. Multiflora Rose proliferates rapidly and competes with native raspberry and blackberry species as well as other ground cover plants for the understory of forests and the margins of cleared land.

 

Additional Resources

Much of this article was written with the help of resources from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Additional resources including a full list of invasive plant species in Maine and several helpful plant identification guides can be found at their webpage, here: https://www.maine.gov/dacf/php/horticulture/invasiveplants.shtml

End of Field Season Reflections

By Chas Van Damme, Regional Field Team Steward
I wanted a job that would give me a farmer’s tan. Along with a whole host of memories, mosquito bites, and what may be the beginning of some cheek wrinkles from smiling too much, my summer working as part of the Regional Field Team (RFT) gave me that farmer’s tan. It has been a phenomenal season working across properties managed by the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust (KELT), the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), and the Phippsburg Land Trust (PLT). I’ve truly learned more than I could have ever imagined about the environment simply by working with and alongside it.
Over with KELT and PLT I had the privilege of lending a hand in trail clearing, bog bridge construction, and monitoring efforts across multiple properties. If you ever find yourself in Phippsburg be sure to check out the Sprague Pond Preserve, it is GORGEOUS! I had a blast working throughout the Kennebec Estuary and I am sure that I will find myself around there very soon.

Final Day monitoring Cow Island

With BTLT, in addition to a looong list of wonderful projects, I helped the stewardship team scout and construct a trail system at the newly acquired Androscoggin Woods property in Topsham. It was fascinating to see the construction of the trails from start to finish, particularly the many factors that need to be considered in the planning phase. In trail construction, we use signals from the environment and allow our surroundings to dictate our every move, but often forget how vital these messages are in our lives. For instance, natural features like the presence of sensitive fern, a tell-tale sign that an area is wet, ought to be acknowledged for a trail to remain sustainably intact. I see ourselves as being in a gentle tango with our environment, and from my very limited understanding of dance, I know that partners ought to work. As humans, we desperately need to listen to our partner in the natural world for its messages and act upon them accordingly.

All in all, it has been a phenomenal summer working in some of my favorite parts of Maine, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you so much BTLT, KELT, and PLT!