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CC's Outdoor Journal; Preserving the future
PHIPPSBURG- Tucked away at the end of a long dirt driveway amidst red pine trees at the base of a granite ledge with a breathtaking view of a fresh-water pond full of fish and native water flowers, is the Bates College Coastal Center at Shortridge, located only a few miles from Fort Popham.
The center is perched on part of 600-acres of coastal property managed by Bates College and used for academic meetings, retreats and conferences.
Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Shortridge facility thanks to my friend Sue Dunn who is an employee at Bates. Our weekend-long agenda included a Seawall Beach clean up at the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area, complete with a health conscious lunch and a Sunday morning seminar to learn about beaver habitat from Mary Jane Dillingham, a biologist for the City of Auburn.
There is no doubt that you've read of my adventures with the group of friends that gather to get fresh air and exercise every chance we get and this was one of those retreats with an educational and community give-back focus.
As most of you know, the summer started out rather slow with all the rain and cool weather and this weekend was no exception. We were greeted with a pleasant surprise of partly cloudy skies with droplets of sunlight on Saturday morning as we set out for Morse Mountain.
Upon our arrival we had a group meeting headed by the director of the conservancy, Laura Sewal, with the other dozen volunteers that had agreed to clean Seawall Beach that day. We were instructed on what was expected of us, and that included digging washed up lobster traps from the sand.
Since vehicles aren't allowed on Seawall Beach, the Morse Mountain Conservancy has an agreement with the lobster fishermen that they will transport the traps that wash up on the beach to the parking lot and they will be accessible for a two week period for the fishermen to pick them up. Whatever traps left there after the alloted time frame will be destroyed.
We loaded up in two vehicles for the two-mile scenic trek to the sea, armed with our work gloves, trash bags and shovels. We passed wet lands and brightly-colored, moss-covered forest area, all the while smelling that heavy salt-water air.
Now, as we pictured these traps on the beach, we expected a nice square box that would easily pile on to a truck, ready for transport. That was the furthest thing from reality. We found some of the traps were barely visible sticking up through the sand, others were so mangled and looked more like “trash art,” and still others were buried so deep in the dunes we were told not to disturb them, as it would do more damage to dig them out.
With pieces of debris littering the beach from small cans to huge 50-gallon plastic drums, our crew set out to help clean up as much as we could.
The clean up was part of the Bates College Day of Service headed by Jacob Cash.
The Bates Days of Service (previously known as National Day of Service) is a comprehensive, year-long program offering Bates alumni, parents, friends and students across the country local community service opportunities. The day is sponsored by the Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement and the Harward Center for Community Partnerships.
In its seventh year, the Days of Service Program continues to reinforce the mission and tradition of civic engagement at Bates.
Along with my ten girlfriends and I who volunteered to clean the beach that day, were locals Bill Hine and Cathy Hazelton, as their son Brett was a graduate of Bates in the class of 2008. They continue to do what they can to help in conservation and community service.
In just a few fog-laden hours, as there were plenty of hands on deck to finish the project, the group met back at the entrance to the beach for a picnic lunch, a photo op with our new Bates shirts and networking with the various volunteering souls.
By the time we made our journey back to Shortridge, the sun was shining and we split up for the afternoon. Some women went kayaking in the pond behind the house to explore, others took an opportunity to visit Fort Popham and the state park and still others had a chance to go out bird watching, as there are several species in the conservancy.
To the surprise of many, the beach at the state park was heavily eroded due to high seas through the winter and spring months. The sandy banks were torn away so badly, that the grills in the picnic sites were hanging down the sides of the hill along with the once beautiful pine trees that shaded the area.
Upon further inquiry to the extent of the erosion, we found out that, while the coastline has taken a big hit over the past ten years, it wasn't until the January and June storms of 2009, when record rainfall and heavy seas eroded the coastline to such an extreme that it rerouted the mouth of the Morse River.
According to the conservancy, “As a result, the worst erosion cycle Popham Beach State Park has ever experienced has come to an end and the next several years should see beach and dune building as a period of accretion begins.”
There are some great photos and diagrams that can be found by visiting the State of Maine Department of Conservation website. It shows the old route of the Morse River, as well as the new route. It's a pretty dramatic sight to be seen, even if you have no recollection of what it looked like previously.
There, you will see what the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservancy is doing to prevent further erosion and their efforts to preserve what coastline is still there.
As we all gathered back at Shortridge that evening, we set out for a short walk in the misty rain to the pond, where biologist Mary Jane Dillingham educated us on the history of the beaver habitat.
Did you know that at one time there were 200 million beavers in North America and when the colonists discovered their love for the fur, the use of their teeth to hollow out canoes and their desire for the castoreum “love potion,” along with many other uses, the beaver numbers began to decline.
Today, there are only about 7 to 12 million beavers in existence. Dubbed “good foresters,” the beaver leaves home when they are three years old and finds one mate, of whom, they stay with for life. The beaver never stops building throughout it's lifetime. They form communities with other couples and make bigger, better houses. Dams more than four feet long have been found.
The North American beaver can grow as large as 40 inches in length, uses it's tail as a rudder and chews in a side-to-side motion to keep their teeth ground down, as the teeth continue to grow throughout their lives.
On Sunday, Dillingham led the group through a short hiking trail near the property to see if there was any beaver sign, with nothing being found. The trail, following a small brook that was filled with natural debris, twisted through the pine trees.
It was noted that the debris in the water is a natural filter and prevents erosion of the ground below.
Dillingham shared, “The conservancy is so important to preserve what we have. This is the legacy you're leaving your children. Our environment is the connection to our way of life, the thing we all know and love. We need to do what we can to be sure it's here for future generations.”
For more information on the Morse Mountain Conservancy, what Bates College is doing to help the environment or the Shortridge Center, visit www.morseriver.com.