Behind the Scenes with Your Stewardship Team

BTLT staff monitoring an easement property

As you walk our trails, bike past a BTLT property, or enjoy watching critters occupying our landscapes, you may not think about the ongoing effort that goes into managing these lands. During an outing on one of our properties you might notice a steward, dressed in orange with a BTLT cap on, preparing their GPS in the parking area or placing a canoe in the water for a day out monitoring. Each monitoring visit starts a little differently from spraying down your pant legs with bug spray before you navigate through a field of tall ferns to loading up your kayak with snacks for a full day paddle up the Cathance River. For a monitor, the goal is always the same: connect with the land and understand the role that each unique property plays in the area that surrounds it. As a monitor, the most valuable tool in your belt is your ability to observe the landscape as you move through it. Every detail observed during a visit creates a story about the land that tells us the health of our forests, the wildlife that call them home, and the people that visit them.

The Land Trust engages the community we serve in many ways, from hosting the Farmers’ Market every Saturday, providing Community Garden plots, making nature learning fun for kids at CREA Camp and school programs, and welcoming folks at events. But at the core of these programs is the land on which they take place.  

Little River Preserve

With all this land comes an immense amount of work that occurs behind the scenes, ensuring the properties remain wonderful places to visit. In the Brunswick-Topsham area, BTLT has the privilege of offering 12 trail systems for public use, but those properties make up a small portion of the additional lands we manage for ecological purposes, plant and wildlife habitat, protection of agricultural land, and cherished viewsheds. 

To date, BTLT manages 68 properties across Brunswick, Topsham, and Bowdoin – that’s 3,220 acres of land that we’re responsible for overseeing! Land trusts conserve land in two ways: by owning land outright (referred to as fee properties), and by holding easements, where the landowner of privately owned property enters a permanently binding legal agreement that protects and prioritizes specific conservation values of their land. To learn more and how and why BTLT conserves land, click here 

With easements and land ownership comes a lot of responsibility. Every year, our stewardship staff and volunteer teams monitor all 68 properties. This time-consuming but vital process is critical to:  

  • Maintain our status as a nationally accredited land trust; 
  • Maintain the safety of our public trail systems; 
  • Maintain strong working relationships with landowners and neighbors;  
  • Understand the changing landscape in the context of climate, hydrologic changes, invasive species, public use, and more; 
  • Keep an eye on what’s happening (good and bad) on BTLT property.  

Woodward Cove

The goal of property monitoring is to ensure that long-term conservation management plans are being met on each property. Stewardship staff and volunteers visit properties annually to observe their current condition, usage, and long-term trends. Following the visit, they generate a report that documents their observations and assesses them in the context of the property management plan or easement.  

The amount of time it takes to monitor each property depends on its size, property type, management plan priorities, and what we find while navigating the property. Cumulatively, the task of monitoring all our properties demands hundreds of staff hours annually and it grows with every new acquisition. As our stewardship responsibilities and workload increase, it is vital that we find new ways to make this process as efficient as possible, so we have time for other key stewardship projects, including trail work, invasive species management, and volunteer engagement. 

New and exciting technologies are constantly being developed that can alleviate the growing time commitment associated with property monitoring. This year, BTLT began using a new landscape conservation software that has immense potential to streamline the process of generating monitoring reports. Volunteers entered baseline data on all our properties, making it possible for reports to easily show the track traveled by the monitor, photo points, and much more. We are always looking for ways to serve our community and fulfill our mission more efficiently. Using programs like this will enable staff to spend more time on many of the other important tasks associated with ensuring the conservation land you cherish remains healthy and available for use by the community! 

Screen shot from the new landscape conservation software

A Long Wait Is Over Thanks to a New Bridge

The long-awaited trail re-route that will re-connect the trails at Cathance River Nature Preserve to Head of Tide Park is officially open!

Shortly before the pandemic, a number of trails in the eastern section of the trail system at the Preserve, including sections of the Cathance River Trail that connects the Preserve to Head of Tide Park, were closed down. This was due to site clearing and construction at what would become the Sycamore Drive Extension neighborhood at Highland Green. This area of trails was located adjacent to the Preserve and on land owned by Central Topsham Associates, the developer of Highland Green and donor of the easement that created the Cathance River Nature Preserve as we know it today. The Land Trust, who holds a conservation easement on the Preserve, manages the trail system in partnership with Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) and Central Topsham Associates. The trail partners have been working hard since the development of Sycamore Drive Extension at Highland Green to lay out trail re-routes that steered hikers away from Sycamore Drive Extension while reconnecting NW and SE segments of the trail system. After countless hours spent trail scouting, many iterations, and significant fundraising, Land Trust and CREA staff and volunteers began clearing and blazing the new section of trail this spring that has accomplished these goals and now become part of the Cathance River Trail.

A crucial component of creating this trail re-route was the installation of a 40-foot long bridge to cross a sizable ravine that drains into the Cathance River, which required the help of professional trail builders. Thanks to funding from both private donors and Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Land Trust was able to enlist the services OBP Trailworks, led by owner Jed Talbot, who worked tirelessly throughout the soggy month of May to construct the spectacular 40-foot-long wooden bridge now in place that was needed to make the trail re-route a reality. Transporting in 40-foot-long steel I-beams as the base of the bridge, along with all of the lumber, hardware, and crushed stone used to create box steps to a staging area on the landing above the ravine was the first of many hurdles for Jed and his crew. This was followed by the crew fabricating the bridge in its entirety before having to completely disassemble it and transport the pieces down a steep slope to its final resting place using a 500-foot long highline. Land Trust staff, volunteers, and videographer Nolan Lyne visited Jed and his crew this spring to see the crew in action.

Check out this video to see the bridge in progress and hear how OBP Trailworks pulled off this engineering feat!

CREA campers enjoying the new bridge

The trail re-route is now open to the public and the Land Trust will continue making trail improvements throughout the summer and fall by installing additional box steps along the new section of trail. Hikers should be advised that it is fairly steep on both sides leading to the new bridge. While visiting the Preserve, please stay on marked trails and be aware that numerous old sections of trail are now permanently closed, including the River Access Trail, portions of the Highland Trail, and portions of the Cathance River Trail. Hiker Parking will also remain permanently closed. To help hikers get oriented to the new trail layout, numerous “You Are Here” maps have been installed along the trail system, and a new kiosk has been installed at the Ecology Center parking area, featuring a map of the new trail configuration and welcoming hikers to the Preserve and the CREA Ecology Center. 

We are delighted that the Cathance River Trail is once more re-connected and invite you to get outside and check out the new bridge! Click here to view the new trail system map. 

BTLT Welcomes New Stewardship and Lands Assistant

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is excited to welcome Garrett Fondoules as the organization’s second full time, permanent stewardship and lands team member! Garrett (he/him) joined BTLT in May 2022 having spent the previous nine years living semi-nomadically in the Appalachian Mountains. That time began with a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, continued with five thousand more miles of hiking, and concluded with six years working in GIS and land stewardship for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He values good and well-organized data and can often be found immersed in spreadsheets, collecting even more data, and is always quick with a pun.

Garrett will be working alongside BTLT’s Director of Stewardship Margaret Gerber to steward the 3,100+ acres of land that BTLT has conserved to date, which will include monitoring and maintaining the 24 miles of trails BTLT manages, identifying and marking miles of property boundaries, annually inspecting all of BTLT’s conserved lands, and supporting BTLT’s lands work, to name just a few of the many projects and responsibilities of the stewardship team. 

When not at work, Garrett is most frequently found building his house or tending the gardens and woods of the homestead he started in Warren in 2020. When actually not at work, he enjoys hiking, kayaking, and finding a good pizza. 

Welcome to the BTLT team, Garrett!

2022 Stewardship Tour Series Line-Up is Here!

Bringing Bats, Bees, and Birds Back

By Margaret Gerber, BTLT Director of Stewardship

On a cold and clear Sunday in December, Eagle Scout Luke Page visited Crystal Spring Farm. It was a nice afternoon for a walk, however he didn’t come empty handed, or alone. He brought with him 10 bumble bee boards, one bat box, two bluebird boxes, and a robin / cardinal nesting box. Armed with power tools and help from a fellow Eagle Scout, his troop leader, and the helping hands of parents, he installed another seven bat boxes, two bluebird boxes, and three robin / cardinal across Crystal Spring Farm, Tarbox Preserve, and Androscoggin Woods.

Hanging these boxes will help promote these species by providing shelter, and can be seen along field edges where bluebirds like to nest, hidden among hemlock or cedar bows where robin and cardinals are protected and hidden, and 14 feet above the ground facing south to keep bats safe from predators and in tune with the sun.

BTLT is grateful to Luke and his troop for their hard work, and we hope you’ll enjoy spotting these boxes next time you’re at the community garden or out on the trails at Crystal Spring Farm, Tarbox, or Androscoggin Woods!

 

 

It’s Hunting Season!

By Margaret Gerber, BTLT Director of Stewardship

The Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust recognizes the many intersections that hunting and conservation share, as both require keen observation, and understanding and respect of the natural world. Hunting is an important cultural tradition that has provided sustenance for thousands of years to the people who call Maine home, and continues to provide food, play an important role in conservation, and connect people with nature.

Present day Maine is 94% privately owned with varying levels of public access, and traditional hunting access to land in the greater Brunswick, Bowdoin, and Topsham area is disappearing as ownership changes hands and land is developed.

Hunting is not only an important tradition in Maine, but an important management tool to protect farmers’ livelihoods. Deer can ravage crops overnight and create a significant burden for farmers, straining their finances, endangering the health safety standards of their fields, and costing them valuable time and labor.

Expanded bow archery season begins on September 11th and runs through December 11th, so next time you head out on the trails, remember to wear your blaze orange!

Below is some information for trail users to help ensure a safe visit to the few BTLT trails where bowhunting is allowed:

  • Bowhunting only is currently allowed at Crystal Spring Farm, Tarbox Preserve, and Woodward Cove. Blaze orange vests can be found at the parking area kiosks for visitors to wear while on the trails and return after using. 
  • Hikers should wear blaze orange and exercise caution during hunting season (click here to find hunting season dates).
  • Hunters who you encounter on trails will have their arrows in a quiver while traveling, making it impossible for an arrow to accidentally be fired.
  • Please stay on marked trails and keep your dogs on leash – it is required on all BTLT trails all year long, and is especially important during hunting season to keep deer from being disturbed. There are fines if your dog is off leash and chases deer, so leash your dog or leave them at home during hunting season!
  • Please note that hunting on Sundays is illegal in Maine.
  • Bowhunters are not allowed to discharge an arrow within 75 feet of a trail and are made aware of the location of all trails on the property they are hunting. 
If you are interested in learning more about the Land Trust’s hunting rules or are interested in requesting permission to hunt on Land Trust properties next year, please visit https://www.btlt.org//itshuntingseason/.
The permission window for the current fall 2021 season has closed, but will be open again for spring turkey hunting!

BTLT’s Stewardship Team – together again on trail!

Controlled Burn at Crystal Spring Farm

Cathance River Nature Preserve Partially Re-Opened!

Just in time for mud season, BTLT, Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA), and the Preserve landowner, Seacoast Management, are pleased to announce the limited re-opening of Cathance River Nature Preserve following its 2020 closure due to COVID19.

Initially, trails will be accessible only from the Ecology Center parking lot. The Cathance River and Highland Trails will be open as far south as the Rapids Trail. The Beaver and Barnes Leap Trails will also be open. The wearing of masks in outdoor public spaces is still required, so please keep trails safe and open by following this rule.

To ensure a smooth re-opening and make sure that trails can remain open, please do not use closed trails, unfinished re-routes, or closed parking areas.

Hiker Parking will remain closed until trail re-routes around the Sycamore Drive Ext development are complete. Once new bridges associated with trail re-routes are complete, all Preserve trails will open for use.

It is essential that Preserve visitors park only in designated parking areas, which are the Ecology Center parking lot and (when re-routes are complete) Hiker Parking. Most of the streets in Highland Green are not public ways and street parking is not allowed. Please park efficiently to maximize parking space and if parking lots are full, return another day. Check our TRAILS PAGE to find many other wonderful local hikes.

We are delighted to announce this news, but because it is mud season, we caution people to exercise restraint in use of the trails until things dry out. In the meantime, please follow best practice for hiking during mud season: wear waterproof footwear that can get muddy; walk through, not around, muddy areas to avoid extending the damage and widening the path more than necessary; hike early or late in the day when temps are cooler and the ground is firmer.

We thank you for your patience during the closure and look forward to seeing you on Preserve trails in the coming months!

Barren Burn