Posts

Stewardship Tour Series: Invasive Plant Identification


  • August 12, 2021
    5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

Interested in learning about some of the invasive species that have made a home for themselves among our native plants? Join George Jutras, BTLT Land Steward, to learn about the natural history of some invasive plants such as bittersweet, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and Japanese barberry as well as the (more…)

Apogee Adventures Lends a Hand at the Tom Settlemire Community Garden

By George Jutras

This week, high school students on a program with Brunswick-based Apogee Adventures spent the afternoon volunteering in the Tom Settlemire Community Garden. Extra hands are always appreciated on garden projects! It was especially helpful to have twelve young students and their leaders help us with the groundwork for a new expansion of the water system at the garden.

David Brooks, of Brooks Hydro Logic, has been immensely helpful in volunteering his time to plan and construct much of the existing water system at the community garden, including this project expansion. With Dave’s direction and help, the Apogee students dug trenches and laid new pipes. They also levelled and packed a gravel foundation for a new water tank on the southern side of the garden. In addition, the students helped dig trenches for new connections to the wellhead near the garden entrance and for a hydrant at the northern garden boundary. It’s always a pleasure working with Apogee students and staff, and we appreciate their continuing partnership!

“Apogee offers outdoor adventure travel to teens and young adults. They provide students with well-designed hiking, biking, community service, writing, photography, and language programs to spectacular locations throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Caribbean.

They travel in small, supportive, co-ed groups led by dynamic, responsible, and well-trained leaders. In this nurturing and wholesome environment, students learn about themselves and others through physical challenge and volunteer work. Traveling by their own power, students will achieve new heights. Apogee’s primary goals are for students to have fun, form lasting friendships, and to develop strong values.

It’s Blueberry Season!

It’s once again blueberry season at Crystal Spring Farm. A portion of the farm on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road consists of a rare natural community of plants known as a sandplain grassland, which is ideal habitat for low-bush blueberries. It’s July, so the blueberries in the barren are ripening now!  

Please note that the Land Trust only owns a small section of the barren. The much larger adjacent property is leased and managed by Seth Kroeck, Crystal Spring’s farm manager, for the commercial sale of organic blueberries. Please do not pick beyond the Land Trust’s clearly marked property boundary. 

Kroeck described his growing process for us. “Growing blueberries is a two-year cycle. We prune the plants, either by mowing or burning, the spring after the harvest. The next year they regrow and it is on this new growth that they make flowers and then fruit. By dividing the field in two, each season we have one section of plants in regeneration and one ready to harvest.”  

BTLT undertakes a similar management practice, and this spring half of the section open to the public was burned to promote healthy growth of this unique habitat. Because of this, there will only be berries in the western section this year. 

  • . The boundary line is marked with metal stakes and signs, and the lone trees in the middle of the field mark part of the boundary. 

Kroeck also noted that “Bees for pollination are rented from Swan’s Honey in Albion. We truck them back and forth, loading in the evenings when the colonies are inside the hives. It takes 30 to 40 hives to pollinate this crop.” There are also a few ‘resident hives’ on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road that help to pollinate the blueberries when they are in flower.  

Mowing, bringing in hives to pollinate, harvesting, and processing are all labor and capital intensive for Kroeck and Crystal Spring Community Farm. But, blueberries have become one of the farms’ most important crops, and can be found in natural food and grocery stores up and down the coast. This significant investment is also why we ask the community to be mindful of only picking in the areas BTLT has set aside for public gathering. 

The massive “barren” at Crystal Spring doesn’t just produce blueberries, though. The area is a rare natural community home to sedges, birds, reptiles, and butterflies that depend on sandy soils and full sunlight to thrive. Once common along the northeastern coast, development and changing land uses have all but eliminated this unique biome, and the Maine Natural Areas Program lists it as “critically imperiled.” The unique habitat is a product of geologic history and human actions. The sand and gravel deposited by melting glaciers at the end of the last ice age provides a level, well-drained base that acidic plants love. Both Native Americans and European settlers used fire deliberately as a way to maintain the area as grassland and promote blueberry production. 

In 2019, BTLT hosted a “bioblitz” at the property to help catalog the many species that call this place home. The recent prescribed burn of the blueberry barrens will help ensure this unique habitat is sustained, and BTLT will carefully monitor the recovery and the species that it has impacted. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the prescribed burn and this rare natural community, join the Land Trust’s Stewardship Manager, Margaret Gerber, on July 27th at 5:30 PM. She’ll take you through the process of planning on the ground for a prescribed burn and what the Land Trust hoped to accomplish by burning 14 acres of the barren in April, as well as any other questions you have around land management. To learn more about the event and register, you can click here. 

If you can’t make the walk but would like to visit the blueberry barrens, 

  • now is a great time of year to do so while the blueberries are ripe for the picking. We also recently installed interpretive signage at the farm that helps describe this unique community.  

Our blueberry barren is located south of Pleasant Hill Road. To access it, you can park at the Crystal Spring Farm trail parking area and take the East Trail.  Where the East Trail intersects the Blueberry Loop, take a right toward the field and you’ll find blueberries! 

As you enjoy the blueberries and engage in this wonderful rite of summer, please respect a few important rules: 

  • Stay on our property: The map at the end of this post shows the location of our property boundary. These maps are posted at primary entrances to our property.
  • Park responsibly: While we prefer that people use the parking area described above and walk to the barren, it is also possible to park along Pleasant Hill Road near the gate approximately 0.75 mile from Maine Street. If you park on Pleasant Hill Road: 
  • DO NOT BLOCK THE FARM ROAD OR GATE! The road must be accessible to farm and fire equipment at all times. 
  • Park only on the south side of Pleasant Hill Road (the side the blueberries are on). With cars parked on both sides of the road, pedestrians crossing, runners and bikers, and farm equipment all converging – it makes for a very unsafe situation. 
  • Have fun! And share your best blueberry recipes with us! 

If you have questions, give us a call at 729-7694. Happy picking! 

New Signage at Crystal Spring Farm

By George Jutras
The BTLT stewardship team recently finished installing some new interpretive signage at Crystal Spring Farm. Signs near the Farmstead parking area at the East Trail trailhead detail the history of farming and conservation at Crystal Spring. They highlight the chronology of events that has led to the successful coexistence of a popular public access trail system and active farm, all concurrently managed for ecological conservation of the land. A sign at the intersection of the East trail and Ravine Trail remembers the Indigenous history of the area, highlighting the Wabanaki People and their longstanding connection to and ecological maintenance of the area in which Brunswick and Crystal Spring Farm now lie. An additional sign near the intersection of the Blueberry Loop and the East Trail discusses the natural history and ecological significance of the Sandplain Grassland ecosystem. It comprises a significant portion of the Crystal Spring Farm area, particularly the blueberry barrens on the southern side of the property.

Rescheduled: Stewardship Tour Series: Crystal Spring Farm Blueberry Barren

We're sorry, but all tickets sales have ended because the event is expired.

  • July 27, 2021
    5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

Interested in learning about the role prescribed fire can play in our local landscapes? Come learn about the recent prescribed burn of the blueberry barren at Crystal Spring Farm with Stewardship Manager Margaret Gerber while enjoying u-pick berries along the way!  Joining Margaret will (more…)

BTLT in the News, “Brunswick project tests Topsham scout’s paperwork, bridge-building skills”

Brunswick project tests Topsham scout’s paperwork, bridge-building skills

Patti McDonald, March 26, 2019

Sam Hughes, a local Eagle Scout, completed a bridge at the end of Jack’s Trail at BTLT’s Chase Reserve last fall. Through challenges in the paperwork to the excitement of building, Patti McDonald at The Forecaster recently covered the story.

Some teenagers are buried in their electronic devices or concerned with the next social media challenge.

Not 15-year-old Sam Hughes.

Hughes, a sophomore at Mt. Ararat High School, revels in his time outdoors and appreciates nature. He said his love for the outdoors is the reason he decided to join the Boy Scouts when he was 6 years old.

Hughes, who lives in Topsham, has been in the Boy Scouts for nine years and has already achieved the Eagle Scout rank, the organization’s highest achievement. He completed his service project last fall: a bridge he built at the end of Jack’s Trail on Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Chase Reserve on Bunganuc Road in Brunswick. The trail connects BTLT’s trail with Freeport Conservation Trust’s Antoinette Jackman Trail.

Click here to read more about Sam’s project!

Stewardship

Click here to read a recent Time Record article about the Land Trust's stewardship efforts.

Click here to read a recent Time Record article about the Land Trust’s stewardship efforts.

Over the past three decades, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust has conserved over 2,400 acres of the most productive and diverse lands in the region. Each conservation project comes with a deep and permanent responsibility to monitor and care for, or steward, the land forever.

With thousands of acres of farm, forest, and wetland, seventeen miles of trail, a Farmers’ Market, Community Garden, and Labyrinth to manage, the  Land Trust’s stewardship work is diverse.

The Land Trust is increasing efforts to engage the community in a variety of ways to build support for this stewardship work which is so vital to the future ecological, economic, and social health of the community.

“We have to maintain a very active presence on our conservation properties to ensure their values are maintained over time – for outdoor recreation, traditional land uses like farming and forestry, scenic views, plant and animal habitat, water quality protection, and much more,” says Land Trust Associate Director Caroline Eliot.

“Every land owner knows that things change over time.  Neighbors and surrounding land uses can change, and how the public uses our properties changes too.  Sometimes these changes bring challenges that require an immediate response. It’s important to demonstrate that we’re paying attention to every property we own or steward.”

The Land Trust’s stewardship program is strong and robust, and it continues to build on past successes, even as the demands of stewarding local lands increase for this small non-profit.

Since 2009, the number of properties managed by the Land Trust has more than doubled.

All of its fifty-two protected properties must be visited at least once a year for monitoring. This work is done primarily by volunteers, but training, coordinating, and supporting these dedicated stewards takes considerable effort.

Quite a few of the Land Trust’s conservation properties are privately–owned and protected from development by deed restrictions called ‘conservation easements.’  Easements identify the property’s special values, such as habitat, open space, scenic qualities, watershed protection, and others, then state which activities are allowed and which are not allowed so that the unique qualities of the place will last. The Land Trust must inspect easement properties annually to ensure the terms of the easement are being met. When issues are found, such as an activity that is not consistent with the intent or terms of the  easement, the staff must work with the landowner to resolve the issue. Most issues are inadvertent and result from misunderstanding or forgetting about specific easement terms.  The vast majority of issues are resolved amicably, but this work takes time. Similarly, like any other property, easement-protected land periodically changes owners – requiring an investment of time by the Land Trust in  establishing and maintaining a good relationship with the new owners, many of whom are unfamiliar with the responsibilities and limitations associated with conservation easements.

While easements require regular attention, in a typical year, it is the Land Trust’s public access properties that need the most care. As the region grows more popular, community members and visitors are increasingly aware of the many places the Land Trust makes available for recreation. As a result, trails are experiencing much higher levels of use. Many of the Land Trust’s seventeen miles of trail were built in the early 2000s. The infrastructure along these trails, and sometimes the trails themselves, now require replacement or major refurbishment.

“While we hope visitors see a trail that looks and feels like it needs little or no maintenance,” says Land Trust Executive Director Angela Twitchell, “In fact, keeping trails safe and beautiful requires constant effort – clearing blowdowns, clipping branches, protecting waterways from siltation, maintaining signs and blazes, and addressing issues such as unauthorized vehicles and uses.”

In the past, with fewer overall miles and much newer trails, trail maintenance was managed by a few volunteers – mostly Board Members of the Land Trust.  More recently, with trail maintenance needs growing and the public’s expectations of trail conditions increasing, the Land Trust has had to add dedicated stewardship staff and more actively recruit, train, and coordinate stewardship volunteers.

Eliot points to a new program as an example. “We started a trail monitoring program in 2015 and have a great crop of dedicated trail monitors who serve as our eyes and ears on the ground,” says Eliot.

“We also have a small but committed group of trail workers, mostly retired folks who love to be outdoors. They bring wonderful skills to our work, but we always need strong young volunteers to help as well. One of our biggest challenges is finding strong young people to help with moving materials such as stone and timbers into the trails.”

“In my opinion, the Land Trust’s trails are some of the most outstanding features of our community,” says volunteer trail steward Wayne Whitney.

He explains his dedication to the work in this way: “I spend hot, sometimes buggy summer days doing this work because I like being in the woods getting healthy physical exercise. I get to work with caring people who share a common vision, and I believe we’re doing something worthwhile. I want future generations to have the same opportunity – both to volunteer and to enjoy these trails.”

In recent years the growing need for regular trail maintenance and trail refurbishment due to increased foot traffic, in addition to opportunities to build new trails on recently protected properties has made an all-volunteer force infeasible.

“We need to have people who can respond immediately to an issue, for example, if there’s a safety issue on a trail or a high-impact, unauthorized use. And we need people who can put in long hours building or refurbishing major sections of trail,” says Eliot.

“We currently have between 1.2 and 1.4 FTE staff working in stewardship, including a summer intern and other seasonal paid stewardship help. We’ll need at least this much staff time for stewardship, though likely more, in the coming years.”

The Land Trust also dedicates staff time to community and youth education in an effort to build support for stewardship. “I believe engaging the public in the care of our community’s special places is a key part of stewardship, explains Land Trust Outreach and Education Coordinator Nikkilee Cataldo.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to connect with nature, and caring for this public resource – our trails – is a particularly nice way to do this. We also want  to give children the opportunity to experience the wonder of the natural world. We want to cultivate in them at least a familiarity with, and hopefully  a deep connection to these lands. This connection should enhance their  personal wellbeing and help them  value the natural world so they’ll grow up to be engaged and compassionate community members.”

Toward that end, the Land Trust runs over fifty educational events each year, and established its Young Explorers program to get young families outdoors and familiar with the natural features of our region.

Looking to the future, stewardship work will consume a larger proportion of the Land Trust’s limited resources as the amount of conserved land grows and maintenance needs increase. To be prepared for these stewardship demands, the Land Trust is making a concerted effort to raise awareness of, and funds for, its all-important stewardship work. Its recently completed comprehensive capital campaign established the Land Trust’s first stewardship endowment, and the ongoing Raffle for Stewardship is helping the Land Trust raise funds for that endowment and engage community members in conversations about the need for ongoing stewardship support.

Each raffle ticket sold for the beautiful, locally hand-built Night Heron Kayak helps support the Land Trust’s stewardship program and is a great opportunity for supporters to win an amazing boat. The boat is on display each week at the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm, and tickets can be purchased at www.btlt.org/kayak.

More than anything, the Land Trust wants community members to get out on its beautiful trails, enjoy its public programs, and understand the value of conserved lands (easements) that are not accessible to the public – such as working farms, secluded forested habitat, wetlands, and watershed land. All these lands make the community an amazing place to live and visit – adding incalculable additional value to the community. Stewarding the land is the ‘forever’ but often forgotten part of conservation. But Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is working hard to raise the visibility of and support for this work.

Trail Steward Wayne Whitney sums up the effort in his own words, “My vision is that a century from now people will experience the same sense of well-being, happiness, and serenity I feel when using our trails.  That’s why stewardship is so important to me.”

It Takes A Village

Clearing Pleasant Hill frontage of invasives and shrubs

Clearing Pleasant Hill frontage of invasives and shrubs

We spent a wonderful day recently tending our trails and properties with a small but mighty crew of volunteers who enjoy physical work. There’s something deeply gratifying about work that results in a more welcoming trail, a more beautiful roadside view, or a healthier natural community.

In the morning, equipped with come-a-longs, grass whips, hand saws, and loppers, we made the Cathance River Nature Preserve more welcoming to people (and in some cases, less appealing to ticks!).  Working in small groups, we mowed grassy sections of trail, removed potentially dangerous leaning trees, made signs more visible, removed tripping hazards from trails, and installed new signage.  Trails require constant attention!  Plants are attracted to empty spaces filled with light (a.k.a. trails), so keeping signs and blazes visible is a never-ending task. And, there is a slow but steady rain of trees and branches in the forest creating obstacles for our hikers.

Using the come-a-long to pull out invasives

Using the come-a-long to pull out invasives

In the afternoon, equipped with pickaxes and (again) the mighty come-a-long, a (mostly) different crew wrestled invasive shrubs along Crystal Spring Farm’s road frontage – to preserve the view and remove these unwanted invaders.  It was inspiring to see people working so hard for the benefit of the community.  Seth Kroeck, our tenant farmer, drove by to offer encouragement and the use of his flatbed truck to haul brush to the brush pile. This saved time and energy so we were able to get even more done. Thanks, Seth!

Just some of our work product for the day

Just some of our work product for the day

Land stewardship is not unlike the work of caring for a much loved family member or friend. On the surface, it appears that the benefit is all to the dependent.  But tending to a person, or in this case, a community resource, can be deeply satisfying to the caregiver. Maintaining landscapes and walking trails that enrich people’s lives every day is enriching in itself. And, new friends were made and all left with that tired but happy feeling that comes from an extremely productive day. A heartfelt thanks to all the volunteer ‘caretakers’ who really exerted themselves to keep our communities’ special places special!

 

Events

Stewardship Tour Series: Invasive Plant Identification


  • August 12, 2021
    5:30 pm - 6:30 pm

Interested in learning about some of the invasive species that have made a home for themselves among our native plants? Join George Jutras, BTLT Land Steward, to learn about the natural history of some invasive plants such as bittersweet, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and Japanese barberry as well as the (more…)