For press releases only. Will show on front page under latest news. Only focus on what we want the media to follow.

Stewardship Spring 2016 Edition

By Stewardship Intern Irene Syphers

The stewardship season is ramping up – from Cathance River Trail bog bridge inventory to tread mitigation from unauthorized vehicle use at Crystal Spring Farm trails. In the past couple of months, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring, healing, and forging new trails throughout the BTLT trail systems.

Looking forward, our projects include getting the Chase Reserve and Topsham River trails open while proceeding with maintenance to tread and other features on existing trails.

The newly conceived Topsham River Trail is just one of our exciting summer projects.  The Town of Topsham has engaged us to construct this gorgeous pedestrian trail along the lower Androscoggin River.  Working with volunteers and our summer stewards, we will be hardening the trail and building erosion control and stream crossing structures.

The new trails at Chase Reserve are taking shape. Upcoming work includes installing bog bridges across wet areas and stream crossings, as well as removing hazard trees and blow downs. The most recent installments are stepping stones (pictured below).

On a brisk April morning, superstar volunteer, Terry, met me to quarry and set stones. In this venture, Terry and I used rock bars (large crowbar-esque tools) to locate prime rocks in the mushy, half-frozen ground. Once rocks are located, the moisture level of the ground is considered. By the time we’re ready to roll them to the installation site on the trail, we’re already covered in mud! Installation of the stones is meditative work, requiring careful evaluation of the site and our materials.  We identify the best side of the stone to face up (that would be the flat side!) , take note of the stone’s bottom shape, and dig the perfect hole to fit the bottom. When the rocks are thrown into the hold, stability is assessed, and – ta-da! – stepping stones are set.

Before

Before

After

After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moose Rub

Moose Rub

Other summer stewardship projects will include continuing improvements on some of our much-loved trails at Cathance River Nature Preserve. In an effort to improve drainage and longevity of tread, we will be upgrading a culvert on the Barnes Leap Trail, rerouting stretches of the Highland Trail to cut down on bog bridging, and creating new access trails from the relocated Hiker Parking.

Let us know if you’d love to volunteer.

Farm to Fork Fondo – Volunteer Team Needed!

This year we are excited to welcome Wrenegade Sports to Crystal Spring Farm for their 2016 Farm to Fork Fondo bike ride on August 28.

There’s no better way to experience gorgeous landscapes, diverse local agriculture and farm to fork freshness than from the seat of your favorite bicycle.

~ One of “10 Must-Ride US Gran Fondos in 2016” – Gran Fondo Guide

This event is a wonderful mash-up of farm tour, bike riding, and excellent local food. The ride starts at Wolfes Neck Farm, and includes everything from a short kids “ramble” to a professional-level fondo ride of 90 miles out to Pineland Farm and back.

A key aid station is at our Crystal Spring Farm, where hundreds of riders will be stopping through the day. (This is where you come in!)

The organizers of the ride have made the generous program to reward exceptional volunteer teams by donating to the non-profit that they represent.

We are hoping to establish a small team of volunteers to provide rider support at Crystal Spring Farm on the morning (or afternoon) of the ride. The team would be at the aid station providing water and snacks, and talking to riders about the region and Crystal Spring Farm.

At the end of the day the riders will vote for their favorite team, and based on votes each team will get a portion of donated funds to be given to their non-profit.

DAY-2 660.JPGAs Wrenegade says: “It is widely known that the success of any endurance sports event can be credited to the dedication, creativity and enthusiasm of its volunteers. In order to truly show our appreciation for the hard work of our volunteers, we’ve created a competition that will give them a chance to win cash prizes for local farms and charitable organizations of their choosing.”

You can learn more about the volunteer effort at www.farmforkfondo.com/volunteer-me/

If you would like to volunteer or establish a team, please contact Lee Cataldo or the BTLT office at (207)729-7694

Great marshmallow crop this season

AAAMarshmallowCropGoingGangbustersWe’re pleased to report that after a mild winter our marshmallow crop is going GANGBUSTERS!

These giant marshmallows – which are 8′ in diameter – will be used for our first annual Marshmallow Carving (who needs pumpkins?) and S’mores Festival planned for this July. This is sure to be an extremely popular event, so be sure to register early. Learn more by clicking HERE.

Times Record: Land trust hopes to acquire coastal property by summer

Land trust hopes to acquire coastal property by summer

TR Logo color 8in 2016| March 28, 2016 | Front Page | The Times Record
http://www.timesrecord.com/news/20160328/

BY DOUGLAS MCINTIRE
Times Record Staff

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is in the process of purchasing
land from the Brunswick Unitarian Universalist Church for conservation and public use. The Land T rust hopes to acquire coastal property by summer

BRUNSWICK
The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is hoping to close on about 20 acres of coastal property and prime clam fats by summer.

According to BTLT Executive Director Angela Twitchell, the transaction that began a year ago has been on hold for some time, awaiting funds to be released at the state level. The parcel currently belongs to the Brunswick Unitarian Universalist Church, which had planned to construct a new church on the site before deciding to rebuild at its current Pleasant Street location.

Twitchell said BTLT applied for funding through the Land for Maine’s Future program to cover the $125,000 appraised cost and although they were awarded that funding, it has yet to be dispersed. Twitchell said she spoke with people from the Land for Maine’s Future program last week and they are hopeful Gov. Paul LePage will release the bonds in July.

The purchase contract is set to expire in June, but Twitchell said, if necessary, BTLT will fund the purchase with loans, which will then be repaid with LMF funds.

The property came to the attention of the BTLT through its work with Brunswick Marine Resource Officer Dan Devereaux and others in the community to identify access points for clammers that may be in jeopardy.

Woodard Cove has traditionally been used by clammers and the Unitarian Universalist Church allowed free access to their property. However, a private sale could potentially close access to the clam flats adjacent to the land.

BTLT began talking to the church and in keeping with the church’s mission for stewardship and environmental goals, Twitchell said it appeared to be a win-win for all involved to keep the land conserved and open for hiking, clamming or just enjoying nature.

“Our plan is to have a small trail plus improve access for the shell fishermen and there is already a parking lot of sorts,” Twitchell said, adding that there is a small, scenic high point on the parcel perfect for picnicking.

“I think it does always feel good when there are access points that are in jeopardy as they are up and down the coast, that you can work together, a whole bunch of us in the community and conserve it forever so that’s one less thing to worry about,” Twitchell said.
dmcintire@timesrecord.com

A Local Look at Our Changing Climate

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and Cathance River Education Alliance are partnering on a yearlong program of lectures and field trips to share stories of understanding and hope in a changing climate. With the program, A Local Look at Our Changing Climate, the two local organizations hope to provide in simple terms some insight into how climate change is affecting mid-coast Maine.Long logo

“While there is a host of complex data, policies, and technologies that address global climate change,” says Cathance River Education Alliance Executive Director Matt Dubel, “this series will build community understanding of what change looks like right here, in our own back yards. And it will highlight what some people in the mid-coast region are doing to adapt and make a difference.” He adds that the series will also give people information about actions they can take to make the region more resilient in the face of change.

The goal of the series is to build community confidence that individuals can positively impact the future of coastal Maine in the face of a global issue.

“The resilience of our community depends on citizens who are informed and empowered,” says Lee Cataldo, Outreach & Education Coordinator at the Land Trust. “This series is an effort to encourage people with positive and constructive information.”

Lecture topics through the year include: research from backyard studies and citizen science; forest  changes and evolving forest management practices; shifting bird migration patterns; local seafood industry adaptations; and invasive forest insects. Fall topics will focus on sustainable energy and local food impacts and options.

This spring, Nat Wheelwright, Bowdoin Professor of Natural Sciences, will share his observations of changes in plant and animal populations in recent decades, even in our own backyards. From when flowers bloom to when woodcocks mate, Maine’s natural world is changing. Wheelwright will consider the implications of these changes and suggest how people can respond with positive actions.

Si Balch of Manomet Climate Smart Network will help differentiate speculation from what is actually known about Maine’s changing forest. He will offer information on what landowners can do to make their woodlands resilient in the face of predicted changes. The Land Trust is considering how best to manage its forested lands in the context of climate change, and is looking for student and citizen scientist volunteers to help gather data needed to make effective management decisions.

Citizen science is a way for people to better understand the health of local ecosystems, and add valuable data to regional and global databases. As more people examine natural phenomena, and record and share information, we gain understanding of the natural world. A growing number of scientific inquiries depend on contributions from ordinary people.

The Land Trust is partnering with Project Learning Tree to engage local students, community members, and forestry professionals in gathering data about changes in the forests at Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick. The Forest Inventory Growth (FIG) training in May will teach participants to establish a permanent forest research plot, collect data that will help inform management decisions, and make the data available for long-term studies.

Seafood will be the topic in June. Our region stands in the midst of a fascinating paradox – the Gulf of Maine is the second fastest warming body of water in the world, but according to recent economic research, aquaculture – traditionally dependent on the Gulf’s rich, cold waters – is one of the top three industries for growth potential in our state.  Several films will illustrate how climate change impacts our fisheries and fishing communities. Dan Devereaux, Brunswick Marine Resource Officer & Harbormaster will talk about his decades of observations of change in our local shellfishing industries and innovative approaches to help keep the local shellfishing heritage intact and our local shellfishing communities vibrant.

Lectures will be held on the last Tuesday of most months at the Topsham Public Library in partnership with the Library. Outings associated with the lecture topics are planned for most months, including the day-long FIG training, a tour of the new municipal aquaculture demonstration beds in Brunswick, and a field trip to look at invasive forest insects. More events are being added regularly.

All of the lectures and events in the series are free (excepting a small fee for the day-long FIG training, and a $5 theater cost for the films) and open to everyone.

Bird by Bird, The Avian Population is Shrinking

This is an article by Nat Wheelwright, Bowdoin Professor of Natural Sciences and Chair of the Biology Department, who will be presenting the lecture Backyard Changes on Tuesday, March 29 at 6:30 at the Topsham Public Library, as part of our ongoing Local Look at Our Changing Climate series.

Forty-three years ago, when I reached what my grandfather imagined to be the eve of puberty, I was summoned to spend the weekend with him at his house in rural Connecticut.

I knew what to expect because my four older brothers had undergone the same rite of passage. The climax of the weekend would be the ceremonial presentation of a double-barreled shotgun, followed by sober instruction on firearm safety and general manliness. Next, my grandfather would take me on an excursion into the woods and we’d fire off a few rounds.

But when my turn came the ritual had changed. Instead of a gun, I was given a double-barreled pair of binoculars, and then my grandfather took me on my first bird walk.

I was bewildered. But within an hour my disappointment was forgotten, shoved aside by sheer awe at the sight of a redstart hovering in midair, the sound of a wood thrush’s flute music, the swoosh of chimney swifts rushing in formation overhead.

Out of the cacophony of the dawn chorus, my grandfather taught me to pick out the rhythm of a dropped ping-pong ball in the field sparrow’s song and the towhee’s exuberant “drink your tea!” By their silhouettes alone I learned to distinguish a phoebe and a kestrel.

That weekend my grandfather lifted the veil to a world that had not existed for me before.

I didn’t want our time together to end because I would have to go back to my family’s farm where, to the best of my knowledge, there were no birds.

Of course, back home in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I found all the birds I’d been introduced to in Connecticut and many more, ambassadors of every color: electric-blue indigo buntings, blood-red scarlet tanagers, earth-toned veeries. I still remember the first blackburnian warbler I ever saw, his throat and cheeks so vividly orange, his face looked like it might burst into flames.

Spring and summer mornings thereafter, I’d wake up and listen to the birds singing in my backyard. If there was a sound I couldn’t recognize, I’d throw on a shirt and pair of pants, grab my binoculars, and track it down, something I still do today.

In his later years, my grandfather used to grumble that birds were becoming scarcer and scarcer.

It was tempting to write off his gloom as the natural tendency of the elderly to romanticize the past, or maybe just an old man’s deteriorating hearing and eyesight. But it was true that the whippoorwill that had kept me awake nights when I visited him as a boy had gone quiet, and the woods and fields of the Northeast felt emptier to me.

Earlier this summer, the National Audubon Society released a definitive study of population trends of North American birds, a monumental effort based on decades of Christmas bird counts and breeding bird surveys. The study confirms what my grandfather feared and what most of us now know. Birds that I used to see routinely growing up in New England – evening grosbeaks, eastern meadowlarks, northern bobwhites – are in free fall. The losses are mind-boggling.

Since my grandfather introduced me to birds just half a lifetime ago, once-common species have declined by as much as 80 percent due to the usual suspects: habitat loss, pesticides, introduced species, and climate change. The songs of tens of millions of birds have been silenced. It feels as if the lights are dimming.

In one sense, extinction is hugely overrated. The vast majority of animals and plants that disappear hardly leave a ripple in the pool of life. Species become rare, they disappear, yet ecosystems persist. In some cases biological communities are fundamentally altered because of the missing pieces, but most of the time the ecological effects of extinction of species like Bachman’s warbler or even ivory-billed woodpeckers are hardly measurable.

The true loss is spiritual and aesthetic, not functional or economic. Life would go on if every Shakespeare play and Beethoven sonata were destroyed, but to use the words of the Audubon report, our skies would be “a little quieter and the landscape a little drabber.”

Of course, we’ll always have CDs of bird song and DVDs of bird behavior to fall back on – a digital memory, as it were – but will that be enough?

I can see now that my grandfather’s rite of passage was really about connecting us with the land. It was about learning how to become intimate with our world’s signs, smells, sounds, textures and rhythms. It was about knowing where we are and who we are. How wonderful it would be to be able to pass that gift on to my own grandchildren.

Spring Birding Extravaganza 2016

Join BTLT and our conservation neighbors again this year for the Spring Birding Extravaganza!

The public is invited to take part in the annual Birding Extravaganza, a free series of birding events sponsored by four conservation organizations in Midcoast Maine. Merrymeeting Audubon, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust have collaborated to offer seven opportunities to get outside to watch and learn about birds, while visiting beautiful natural places, including forests, farms, and ocean shoreline.

The Birding Extravaganza, in its fourth year, was created as a way to encourage community members to enjoy and learn about the region’s natural areas.

“I love this annual series,” says Angela Twitchell, Executive Director of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, “because it is such a great way to introduce people to all three land trusts’ trails. Our members love the opportunity to get to know some of the wonderful places that have been protected by our neighbors.”

“The birding series is one of many ways local land trusts collaborate with each other to deepen their impacts,” says Julia McLeod, Outreach Coordinator for Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.

The protected lands of the three land trusts cover thirteen towns and an amazing diversity of habitats and land uses. This means there is a wide range of species in a region already known as a global hotspot for migratory birds.

This diversity is exemplified in the variety of walks available this year, including a chance to observe waterfowl at a tidal creek, an evening observation of the mating dance of the woodcock, and walks to see birds of the forests, meadows and wetlands. These walks are accessible to many, including outings for experienced and novice birders, families and those unable to walk great distances.

All events are free and open to the public. You can visit the websites of the four hosting organizations for more information on these terrific treks to observe our feathered friends.

Merrymeeting Audubon: www.maineaudubon.org/merrymeeting

Kennebec Estuary Land Trust: www.kennebecestuary.org

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust: www.hhltmaine.org

 

———————————

Details on each event:

Woodcock Watch:

On Tuesday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. experience the American Woodcock’s mating dance with Forester Rob Bryan. Learn about woodcock ecology, nesting habitat, and what can be done to enhance habitat for these interesting birds. Just after sunset we’ll stop talking to watch and listen as the male birds take their spiraling, twittering courtship flights. Meet at the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s Curtis Farm Preserve, 1554 Harpswell Neck Road, Harpswell. This free event requires no walking. Bring something to sit on. FMI: www.hhltmaine.org, 207-837-9613, outreach@hhltmaine.org.

Migrating Waterfowl at Sewall Woods

On Saturday, April 30 at 8:00 a.m. join us for a walk through the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s Sewall Woods Preserve in Bath led by Merrymeeting Audubon’s Ted Allen. The group will hike along Whiskeag Creek, a tidal influenced stream that flows into the Kennebec River. Birders will seek migrating waterfowl including Canada geese, black ducks, mallards, blue- and green-winged teal, and common mergansers.  Participants can meet at 7:30am at the CVS in Bath to carpool. FMI: Ted Allen, 207-729-8661.

Birding for Kids

On Saturday, May 7 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. join the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for Birding for Kids, a free, hands-on workshop for families. Participants will learn how to begin identifying birds through their shape, size, beaks, songs and habitat. The group will explore how differently shaped beaks are designed for different foods, listen to some common bird songs and go for a walk to try to identify birds using skills they’ve learned. This is a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your kids (or grandkids). Join us at Curtis Farm Preserve, 1554 Harpswell Neck Road, Harpswell. Bring binoculars. FMI: www.hhltmaine.org, 207-837-9613, outreach@hhltmaine.org.

Crystal Spring Farm

On Thursday, May 12 at 7:30 a.m. join Merrymeeting Audubon’s Jan Pierson for a popular annual outing to Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick.  This walk is through a variety of habitats, including fields, forests, and wetland. We hope to see sparrows, Bluebirds, Bobolinks, and several species of warblers. Bring your binoculars, and meet at Crystal Spring Farm’s Farmers’ Market Green on Pleasant Hill Road in Brunswick. FMI: Ted Allen, 207-729-8661.

Beginning Birding

On Saturday, May 14 at 8:00 a.m. novice birders of all ages are invited to the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s Merrymeeting Fields Preserve in Woolwich to learn birding basics from volunteers and local birding enthusiasts, Robert Carnicella and Ben West. With a variety of habitats, Merrymeeting Fields is the perfect place to learn beginning birding techniques. Learn to spot birds in fields or woodlands and birds in and near the waters of Merrymeeting Bay. Wear boots or shoes that can get mucky and bring a pair of binoculars. FMI: www.kennebecestuary.org/birding-extravaganza, 207-442-8400.

Bradley Pond Warbler Series, One

Bradley Pond Warbler Series, Two

On Sunday, May 15 and Tuesday, May 24, both at 8:00 a.m., join us for the Bradley Pond Warbler Series in Topsham. These two relatively easy walks pass through a conservation easement surrounding a privately-owned working farm. The easement includes varied habitats. We’ll focus on migrating land birds: warblers, flycatchers, blackbirds, vireos, sparrows and an occasional raptor. Meet at the Brunswick Hannaford at 7:30 a.m. or at Bradley Pond Preserve, second parking lot at 8:00 a.m. FMI: Gordon Smith, 207-725-0282, for Sunday; Ted Allen, 207-729-8661, for Tuesday.

Thorne Head Preserve

On Saturday, May 28 at 8:00 a.m. Ted Allen from Merrymeeting Audubon will lead birders through the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust’s Thorne Head Preserve in Bath. Overlooking Whiskeag Creek as it converges with the Kennebec River, the preserve is located on the Maine Birding Trail and is rich in migrating warblers and vireos.  Participants can meet at 7:30 a.m. at the CVS in Bath to carpool.  FMI: Ted Allen, 207-729-8661.

 

Forecaster: Project hopes to boost Harpswell seafood sales

A great article describing the work that BTLT – through the Merrymeeting Food Council – has been working closely on with Maine Coast Fisherman’s Association.

forecaster

HARPSWELL — Call it a tale of two cities, except they’re both towns on the coast of Maine.

“Many people in Brunswick don’t realize that there’s this gorgeous fishing community 10-15 miles away,” Monique Coombs, seafood program director for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said about Harpswell in an interview Tuesday. “There’s just sort of this space there.”

Coombs, a Harpswell resident, believes that a more tangible example of this cultural distance can be measured in seafood and money.

She said Harpswell’s “rich seafood web,” which supports fishermen fishing lobster, scallops, oysters, and groundfish, is an “underutilized product.”

Times are tough, in multiple ways, Coombs said. Statewide, the number of boats that fished for groundfish off the coast dropped from 188 to 52 from 1996 to 2010, according to MCFA. In Harpswell, only a “handful” of groundfish fishermen remain, and they supplement with other catch, she said.

And in many fishing communities like Harpswell, fishermen are being squeezed out of their homes by rising property values. Coombs said someone who lobsters off a wharf in Harpswell could now have to live as far away as Phippsburg.

She believes that Brunswick, with a population of more than 20,000, and a strong local food movement fostered by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, is a more direct market for seafood that’s not being tapped.

The question is, “how can Harpswell start to seize this opportunity and make money,” Coombs said.

To try to bridge this gap, the fishermen’s association, along with the Merrymeeting Food Council, are applying for funds from the Maine Community Foundation’s Community Building Grant Program.

Coombs hopes that a grant from MCF, which could amount to up to $10,000, could seed a more long-lasting economic vision.

The initial money would be used to hire Planning Decisions, a Portland-based firm with offices in Brunswick, to conduct a “needs assessment.”

This assessment, according to MCFA’s grant application, “would examine recent trends, opportunities, and challenges in seafood harvesting and production.”

Coombs specified that more analysis needs to be done to understand the regional implications of the dwindling groundfish industry, the impacts of imported seafood on the local market, and the gaps in distribution pathways on the coast of Maine.

Then, the fishermen’s association would organize meetings in Harpswell to discuss solutions for strengthening the town’s seafood sales.

“These meetings don’t have to be at Town Hall,” she said. One option for a meeting place could be at Cook’s Lobster House. “A conversation over a beer can be more useful,” she said.

Often, “fishermen are told (by nonprofits) what they need, as opposed to being asked,” Coombs said. What she wants to know, she said, is “what do you think the gaps are?”

To that end, Coombs has not laid out a final vision for the project. She said solutions could take many forms: a Harpswell-specific label on seafood sold to retailers, a plan for development at the town’s Mitchell Field property, or a new lobster store, for instance.

“Maybe there’s someone out there who already has a great idea, and needs angel investors … we could be that,” she said.

If the project works out, Coombs hopes the Harpswell model could become a template for other food councils around the state looking to boost local seafood markets.

She encouraged anyone with any idea on how to move forward to contact her atmonique@mainecoastfishermen.org.

“We’re going into this very open-minded,” she said.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 orwwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

In PPH Source: When winter arrives, some Maine farms turn into cross-country ski operations

We appreciate being featured as the Land Trust farm in this great article in Portland Press Herald’s Source Section:

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/07/come-winter-some-farms-turn-into-cross-country-ski-operations/ 

Posted 2/7/2016

BY MEREDITH GOAD AND MARY POLS STAFF WRITERS

This has not exactly been a white winter, but Jenny Johnson’s 700-acre farm in Newburgh is full of woods laced with riding trails, and when she looks out on that scenery she imagines it being used for the kind of Nordic skiing adventures she always wanted to experience.

“Once I start skiing, I never want to stop,” she said. Realistically, she’d have to sleep at some point. “My dream was always to take a tent off my back and set it up.”

She’s working on a three-year plan to build cabins in the woods of her Pebblestone Farm – cabins being infinitely preferable to tents – and then groom cross-country skiing trails to them for her overnight guests. Maybe they’d offer day rates to skiers as well, embracing agritourism in the winter.

“I’ve read about it in a lot of different magazines about farming,” Johnson said. “They are really promoting it as a way to expand your financial base.”

Snow-contingent, of course. You never know when there might be a snow drought, or in the case of last winter, so much snow that less experienced skiers found it too daunting to venture out. For winter agritourism in Maine, the likes of farm stays and weaving classes take a back seat to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It’s not all about ski pass sales, either. Some farms offer groomed trails open to the public for free – a sort of goodwill policy that might pay off in visibility when it comes time to pay for a CSA or in visits to the farm store.

Jane and Rich Lisauskas of Kennebunk cross-country ski along the Buzzell Trail at Harris Farm in Dayton on Jan. 26.

Jane and Rich Lisauskas of Kennebunk cross-country ski along the Buzzell Trail at Harris Farm in Dayton on Jan. 26.

For commercial ski operations in the more developed areas of the state, like Cumberland County’s Pineland, and Smiling Hill, and Harris Dairy in York County, the trails and ski or snowshoe rentals themselves are a way to supplement farm income between growing seasons. Matt Sebasteanski, outdoor recreation director at Pineland Farms, which began offering cross-country skiing 14 years ago, said the income from the extensive skiing operation (30 kilometers of groomed trails) is important to keep the nonprofit farming operation running.

SPENDING MONEY TO MAKE MONEY

One of the enticements of cross-country skiing, at least for the thrifty, is that it is such an easy winter sport to do for free. But when you’re speeding along groomed trails at a spectacular place like Pineland, that $13 adult day pass doesn’t seem so indulgent.

For Pineland, the cost of maintaining the trails is “astronomical” Sebasteanski said.

The grooming team is six-deep and the biggest machine they have, the one that comes out once they have a solid base of snow, costs $190,000 new. Throw in the fuel involved and the inevitable repairs and “That’s a lot of ski passes,” Sebasteanski said.

“We’re not breaking the bank monetarily,” he said.

With 28 years in the business and 40 kilometers of groomed trails, Harris Dairy in Dayton is one of best-known farm skiing operations in the state. The family got into the business back then because there were about a half-dozen kids in the upcoming generation of Harrises who wanted to stay on the land and not enough of it to go around. Skiing was a natural fit, and family members work the rental area and give skiing lessons.

Among the lessons the Harrises have learned in over those three decades is pacing themselves when making big purchases. Bad years are unpredictable. Like last year, when farmer Dixie Harris said it was so cold that only the most “serious” skiers came out.

Pauline Morin of Dayton picks her flavor of milk in the cooler at Harris Farm in Dayton.

Pauline Morin of Dayton picks her flavor of milk in the cooler at Harris Farm in Dayton.

“We try to have a good year, and then buy equipment,” Harris said. “We don’t buy upfront and think we’re going to have a good winter. That’s how people go out of business.”

Tom Greiger of Five Fields Farm in Bridgton, which has run a commercial ski business on agricultural land – it’s an orchard – since 1998, agreed. “You can’t make an investment that you can’t pay for.”

Greiger scoured eBay for a used Viking snowcat he got for $9,500. Only catch? It was in Minnesota. “I’m a bottom feeder,” he said cheerfully. “I am the one always looking out behind the barn for the discarded equipment.”

IF YOU GROOM IT, WILL THEY COME?

He is “almost the lone employee” at Five Fields Farm, which opened up its ski trails at the urging of an uncle with a ski operation in Vermont, who proposed the family make use of the orchard’s higher elevation and typically reliable snow coverage, “‘especially if the apple industry is not as healthy.’”

That turned out to be true when it became a losing proposition for Greiger to pack commercially. He began a you-pick operation instead and relied on the Nordic operation for both supplementary income and a means to keep the farm in the public eye, so that when the next fall rolled around, skiers with a yearning to pick apples would remember the name Five Fields.

All these practitioners of winter agritourism have seen other operations come and go, which begs the question, is there more room in the marketplace for more ski operations? When Pineland entered the cross-country ski business, Greiger said he immediately lost some regular customers, including five annual ski races he’d regularly hosted. But he still draws enough business to stay open.

“I would not try to dissuade anyone,” Greiger said. “I would just say, enter it knowing what you’re getting into. And I hope you aren’t doing this for money because you aren’t going to make a lot.”

There are also costs, such as liability insurance, that some farmers may not consider when they decide to open up their property to skiing. If a farm is just being “a good neighbor” and allows the public to ski across its fields for free, the owners are probably covered by their standard homeowners insurance, says Jim Chalmers of the Chalmers Insurance Group in Maine, which provides policies for many of the state’s alpine skiing areas. But standard home and farm policies usually won’t cover “business pursuits” like Nordic skiing if the farmer is charging the public, so a special policy may be needed, Chalmers said. The cost of these policies can range from a couple hundred dollars into the thousands.

Pineland, for instance, pays $10,000 a year to cover its Nordic skiing and snowshoeing operation as well as other general outdoor activities, according to Erik Hayward, vice president of the Libra Foundation, who manages Pineland’s finances. An underwriter occasionally reviews the property for safety concerns, he added.

A customer waits to purchase milk as Rachel Harris waits on cross-country ski customers.

A customer waits to purchase milk as Rachel Harris waits on cross-country ski customers.

BALD EAGLES AND HANDMADE SOAP

Promoting agritourism is a big priority for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry according to Jessica Nixon, the director of marketing development department. “We just had a presentation on this at the Agricultural Trade Show,” she said.

But the department does not keep tabs, at least not accurate ones, on how many farms use cross-country skiing as a form of winter agritourism. Nixon referred a reporter to a Get Real Get Maine list of 32 farms for cross-country skiing, few of which actually offer any formal skiing opportunities, although some do groom trails on an occasional basis. Aldemere Farm in Rockport is a nonprofit working farm, owned and managed by Maine Coast Heritage Trust. If the weather cooperates, it hosts ski outings under the full moon. It’s all free and part of Aldemere’s educational and community mission.

“We really encourage the public to use it (the land),” said program assistant Jeremy Lucas, who puts in trails with a snowmobile – the cheapest way to groom. “But not everybody is into the agricultural side of things.” But they might appreciate gliding along on land that would look very different if it hadn’t been preserved. As Lucas puts it, “It would all be mansions.”

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, which owns Crystal Spring Farm in Brunswick, gets help from the town of Brunswick to groom its fields and woods. No money changes hands, but it’s a win-win for everyone, even the family who manages the farm. Seth Kroeck and his wife, Maura, use the trails themselves, and enjoy the interaction with the public. Maybe the skiers will be back for the Kroeck’s CSA in the spring or put an order in for a fall pig. “We look at it as nothing but a benefit to have people on the farmland,” Kroeck said. “We like to think of it as a more European way of looking at the farmland, where it is within the public wealth.”

Rich and Jane Lisauskas of Kennebunk cross-country ski along the Buzzell Trail at Harris Farm in Dayton on Jan. 26.

Rich and Jane Lisauskas of Kennebunk cross-country ski along the Buzzell Trail at Harris Farm in Dayton on Jan. 26.

In between the vast Pineland models and the pure nonprofits are smaller commercial farms that offer free skiing opportunities from a similar, community-oriented mindset.

“I welcome anyone,” said Marie Kirven of Sweet Dreams Food and Farm in St. Albans, a lavender and herb farm that has, snow permitting, about 1,200 feet of trails going down to Indian Pond. She said the farm started offering skiing a few years ago because there weren’t other area farms doing so. “I call it I-95 when it is cleaned and groomed and well kept.”

“We want people to get out to nature and see what is going on,” Kirven said. Like the two pairs of bald eagles that live nearby. Skiers park in the farm store lot and if they stop off for some hot chocolate at the farm store afterward, or a bar of handmade soap, even better.

SOUP WITH YOUR SKI

None of these places are running skiing operations as standalone businesses. Nor would they want to. “It’s a great substitution or addition to what we already do,” Pineland’s Sebasteanski said. And great advertising. Even if Pineland skiers don’t avail themselves of the farm market for lunch, they might get a hankering to come back for disc golf in the spring, or the next time they’re in the grocery store, feel more of an urge to toss those Pineland meatballs in their cart.

Or as they do at Smiling Hill in Westbrook, step into the cafe and farm store for a hot lunch or something more rewarding.

“We have a lot of people who get ice cream after,” said Hillary Knight, the family member who manages the ski operation. “They feel like they deserve it after having that much of a workout.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:10 a.m., Feb. 7, to correct the location of Harris Dairy in York County.

Become a Plant Conservation Volunteer with New England Wild Flower Society!

downloadNew England Wild Flower Society is seeking enthusiastic people interested in plant identification and exploring interesting natural habitats to participate in their Plant Conservation Volunteer Program.

Plant Conservation Volunteers (PCVs) puts the skills of citizen science to work collecting information on rare plants and their habitats across all six New England states. There are also opportunities to assist with invasive and habitat management projects that benefit rare plants and botanical surveys. The New England Wild Flower Society provides annual training for those interested in becoming PCVs. The Society also offers free field trips and learning opportunities to PCVs often interacting with professional botanists to learn more about hard to identify species and the ecology of various habitats.

Good candidates are motivated, interested in plant identification, and a little adventurous. It’s an excellent opportunity to develop your botanical skills and put them to work, learn more about the flora of New England, meet others with similar interests, and help preserve your state’s natural heritage.

Training sessions will be held on a weekend in March/April for each of the New England states. Interested applicants with some botanical knowledge and are outside of Eastern Massachusetts are encouraged to apply.

For more information and to apply visit our website at www.newenglandwild.org/volunteers/plant-conservation.html/ or contact:

Laney Widener

Botanical Coordinator

New England Wild Flower Society

508-877-7630 ext. 3204

lwidener@newenglandwild.org