A Summer in the North Woods of Maine

Ryan Saul


By Ryan Saul
Intern, Moose River Bow Loop Crew





With school in session and my summer behind me, let’s talk about the University of Southern Maine’s Northern Forest Canoe Trail summer course. The course is taught by the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. As an NFCT intern this year and someone who loves to canoe, I just had to take this class! The course involves a journal of a minimum of ten days on the trail, an erosion survey, contributing data towards a non-profit organization, observing invasive species, and other assignments. Taking the course at the same time as being an intern has been a great experience, and has helped me retain a lot of information.

Site Survey
Working with fellow crew member Colin McIntosh to measure campsite cell area.

For instance, the data contribution assignment involved helping a non-profit organization. Being on the Bow Loop crew, we had been collecting data by surveying campsites all over the Bow Loop in Jackman, Maine. We also were required to identify trees, observe erosion, and understand the landscape we were in.

While working it is hard to take the time to stop and look around every now and then. Performing tasks for the course at the same time made me research more about the area and take the time to really read the landscape. The north woods of Maine is no longer just a large area on the map that I know contains trees, moose, and beavers. To me the north woods has become a historical and very precious resource thanks to this class and the stewardship intern experience with the NFCT.

The Bow Loop, is a 34-mile loop trip that includes Attean Pond, Holeb Pond, and the Moose River. The amount of data that we complied and uploaded felt endless until it was halfway through the summer. Once our surveying for the summer was completed we began our maintenance on the loop. To start this we had a week of lumber training on Flagstaff Lake at Bigelow Lodge.

Learning how to make mortises during lumber training week.
Learning how to make mortises during lumber training week.

The lodge was a large 70’s style ski resort that was built to impress potential investors, but the Land for Maine’s Future fund conserved the Bigelow Range and the ski resort fell through. There was always an eerie presence while we were there and I felt as though Jack Nicholson was around every corner with an axe. The scenery wasn’t bad with a view of the Bigelow range from the living room and a short trail down to the lake. We constructed a log ladder and two privies that we would later assemble in the field.

A fully loaded canoe!
A fully loaded canoe!

After lumber week, we rigged the canoes up with picnic tables the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands provided us and paddled down the moose at a very slow pace. Soloing a canoe filled above the gunwales with lumber is a bit of a workout, and isn’t the easiest craft to steer. Once the canoe was moving at “full steam” it kept the momentum and did not want to turn so easily. Every table we dropped off and built was like taking weight off our canoe’s shoulders, speeding us up significantly.

The longest day was our ordeal with the 0.75 mile portage. We ended up moving three tables and a privy across the portage along with all of our tools and gear. We may have walked down and back around 10 times. Thankfully the water was high enough we didn’t have to portage anymore after that!  We continued to put picnic tables around the Bow Loop and disassemble the old ones for the next few weeks.

Regional Field Coordinator Will Jeffries posing with a newly installed box privy.
Regional Field Coordinator Will Jeffries posing with a newly installed box privy.

Colin and I also had the pleasure of working with Walter, his wife Kyle, and Chloe (Walter’s sweet but territorial Border collie). We assembled a log ladder that turned out beautifully and we received many compliments from paddlers on it. It felt accomplishing to be able to see your work in use and help make someone’s experience more enjoyable.

In the end I learned so much about trail work, the history and the economy of northwestern Maine, and reading the landscape. This summer was incredible and taking a course on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and interning concurrently added so much to the experience.