“Hey You!”

Shouts of “Hey You!” echoed across Long Lake in Naples, Maine, this morning as sixth grade students from Oxford Hills enjoyed a cruise sponsored by the Lakes Environmental Association aboard the Songo River Queen II, a replica of the famed Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers. For the past twenty years or so, LEA has offered this event to those who have completed the Living Connections Program in the Lake Region Schools and as a special program for students from several other districts, such as Oxford Hills.

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This culminating activity brings all the lessons students have learned about shoreland zoning and water quality to life in an engaging and interactive way.

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After what seemed like months of rain, it was a beautiful morning as Captain Kent steered the boat away from the dock and onto the 11-mile-long lake.

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As the tour began, LEA’s talented teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, quizzed the kids.

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They expressed their knowledge about watersheds, lake hydrology, phosphorus and other nutrients, chlorophyll, algal blooms, vegetated buffers, erosion control, thermocline, stratification and turnover, and received prizes for each correct answer. I’m always impressed by their responses.

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They’re able to point out vegetated buffers . . .

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and recognize that some lakefront properties built within the 100-foot setback are older than the shoreland zoning law and therefore grandfathered.

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In the midst of it all, Captain Kent suddenly made Mary aware of a violation occurring on shore. Several women shoveled sand out of a wheelbarrow and spread it with rakes.

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Encouraged by Mary, the kids shouted, “Hey You!” The women continued to spread the sand so the kids shouted again—only this time they were even louder. On shore, the culprits looked surprised. Using the loudspeaker system, Mary explained that it’s illegal to add sand to the beach.

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The women quickly retreated, dumping the wheelbarrow in the process. The kids caught on that this was a role playing situation, but it created opportunities to discuss the implications–such as the fact that dumping sand can cause significant problems for the lake because it contains phosphorus, which contributes to decreased water clarity and algal blooms. Wildlife is also affected, e.g. decreased spawning habitat for fish, and increased opportunities for invasive aquatic plants like variable-leaf milfoil.

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Mary continued to question the kids as the boat poked along, until another “Hey You!” moment. One woman was spotted spreading fertilizer (flour in this case) with a flourish, while another sprayed what appeared to be weedkiller on the vegetative buffer. The kids were reminded that topical fertilizers often contain phosphorus and other nutrients that wash into the lakes.

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At the same property, a man mowed the lawn using the lowest setting (or so it looked from the boat). Short grass is even more likely to allow those nutrients to wash into the water.

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The next violation involved a group of people trimming and removing the vegetated buffer. The students know the buffer is the last line of defense between a home and the lake because it provides a filter for any run-off, thus helping to keep excessive nutrients, sediment and storm water out of the lake. Native trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover should be left in place.

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Like the other offenders, this group hastily ran away . . .

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and hid behind the trees.

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Following the third stop, the boat paused in the middle of the lake, where Mount Washington was visible. Students rotated through water testing stations where they practiced using such devices as a secchi disk, dissolved oxygen meter, Van Dorn water sampler, and core sampler. I was in charge of the core sampler and we talked about how the hose is lowered to one meter below the thermocline, that mid-point at which the temperature decreases and sunlight cannot penetrate. (Think about doing a cannon ball off the dock and hitting the spot where the temperature is suddenly freezing–or so it feels on a hot summer day.) We talked about how the water is tested in a lab for chlorophyll, phosphorus, pH, color and more. And then they tried gathering a water sample. One student lowered the weighted end of the clear, plastic hose into the water, while the others held onto the rest of it. When I said “Crimp and cover,” a second student crimped the hose and a third covered the far end. Quickly, the first student raised the weighted end, the other two let go and working together, all raised the hose high and tried to “walk” the water down it and into a container. Today, I think we gathered the most water I’ve seen in all the years I’ve volunteered for this activity.

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Once students had rotated through all of the stations, Mary’s quiz continued as we traveled along the eastern shore. Volunteers asked questions, though I let Mary ask mine, and again the students who answered correctly were rewarded.

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Because they were on the lookout, one of the kids noticed people wearing hardhats and attempting to cut pine trees within mere feet of the lake.

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They are quickly admonished by this now savvy group, though the “workers” couldn’t believe they’re being picked upon. Mary did remind the kids that shoreland zoning laws do allow homeowners to limb up to 1/3 the height of a tree in order to maintain a view.

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Close by, a man washed his laundry—yes, in the water. Under state law, it is illegal to intentionally introduce foreign substances, including soap, into the water. (He was supposed to “bathe,” but the temperature is a wee bit chilly yet.)

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It didn’t end there. As the boat passed by the Naples Town Beach, the kids noticed a group gathered on the dock drinking and then tossing empty cans.

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You know by now what happened.

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Though one guy did run back . . .

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to get the boom box.

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At last Kent steered the boat back toward the dock.

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The cruise had come to an end, but by seeing the volunteer actors on shore, students made the connection between their in-class learning and real life situations when it comes to water quality.

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Oh, and before we had initially headed out, Mary spotted a huge dragonfly exoskeleton by the causeway and LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, climbed over the railing to fetch it. As Mary pointed out to the kids when she held the exoskeleton up, this is what it’s all about–clean water for aquatic species and for us.

Hey You! Think about your actions and be the difference.

Changing Focus Sundate

Because we’d traversed the trails along the western portion of Sebago Lake State Park a few weeks ago, my guy and I thought we’d try the eastern portion today. The sun shone brilliantly and there was a slight breeze as we drove down the park road to the boat launch parking lot.

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Studying the map, we decided to follow the Outer Loop in a counter-clockwise fashion.

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Snowshoes were a must, but the trail was well traveled. My guy’s attire spoke to the breeze and a bit of a chill that greeted us.

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Whenever we could, we took in the view of the Songo River that winds its way from nearby Brandy Pond in Naples to Sebago Lake on the Casco side of the park. This river has been the focus of the Lakes Environmental Association for the past ten years as it was once heavily infested with variable-leaf milfoil. Thanks to LEA’s good works, the invasive aquatic plant has been eradicated, though the milfoil crew conducts routine check-ups each summer.

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When we reached the lake, we chose a diversion and followed the trail along the sandbar.

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It offered a backward view of the lagoon and we could hear Canada geese honking from the open water.

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And then we turned and headed to the beach. The park service grooms the trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, making for an easy hike when we stayed on trail, which we did for the most part today. Picnic tables and outdoor grills were abundant and we had our choice.

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We chose one in the sun for it had little snow on it. This was our lunch view. As Maine’s second largest lake, Sebago Lake is twelve miles long and covers a surface area of 45.6 square miles. The maximum depth is over 300 feet and its mean depth is just over 100 feet. The 105-mile shoreline touches the towns of Naples, Casco, Raymond, Windham, Standish, Sebago, and Frye Island. All that and we’ve never spent any time on it. We’ll have to fix that in the future.

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Water clarity is excellent and the bottom can be viewed at 45 feet. That’s all good news for Portland and surrounding towns for the lake is the source of their drinking water–thanks to the Portland Water District.

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We followed the trail along the boundary of the park, passing through hemlock groves and mixed hardwood communities. But really, there wasn’t much change in the terrain and we decided we much preferred the west side. A couple of hours later, we were happy to be back beside the Songo River, having completed the loop. And we were ready to change our focus.

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Back at home, my guy decided to revamp our grill. And I decided to snowshoe some more. By 2:30, the temp had risen into the 40˚s and I didn’t bother with a jacket or gloves. Right off the deck, I found my first great find–a wasp moving sluggishly on the snow’s surface. Those wee claws at the end of its foot (tarsus) must have been frozen.

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I didn’t go far, but spent lots of time in quiet admiration. There were things to notice, like many, many mammal tracks. And this crustose lichen which is a script lichen. It’s “script” could easily be mistaken for a branching plant.

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Each time I stopped, I wondered what I might see that I hadn’t viewed before. And I wasn’t disappointed. One oak had several twigs with woody growth forms where buds should have been swelling. I decided they were galls and conducted some research when I returned home. I think the tumor-like swelling is a gouty gall that grows on oaks. Apparently, it’s created by a wasp. Hmmm. Not the one I saw, but a tiny wasp of the cynipidae family. The galls provide food and protection for the developing larvae.

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I found another protective covering on the maleberry that grows near the cowpath. I’m not sure what insect created this cozy home, but being in the wind tunnel that comes down the powerline, its rather impressive that it still exists.

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My last stop was the vernal pool. I wasn’t the only one who paid a visit. I found snowshoe tracks created by a neighbor who had stopped by to look and deer tracks that crossed the front edge of the pool. I think the snow will melt eventually and life will begin again for the spring peepers, wood frogs and salamanders–it always does.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I love winter. But . . . I can feel a change of focus in the air and see it in all that surrounds me. I guess that’s why I love being a New Englander.

 

Hiking the West Mondate

How could it be? We realized this past week that we’d only hiked in Sebago Lake State Park together once–thirty years ago. Oh, I’ve skied there, visited friends who were camping, and participated in several eighth grade class picnics back in my public education days.  But today we decided to remedy our hiking opportunity–or lack thereof.

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Our intention wasn’t to camp, but rather to explore the trails that circle around and cut through the 1,400-acre property. For those of you who know my guy, though we certainly haven’t spent a lot of time in the park, he does feel a certain affinity–to the brown stain that the park staff purchases in five gallon buckets from his hardware store. 🙂

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After looking at a map near the entry booth, we headed off on a trail marked with orange blazes. Or so we thought. Until we realized we were following the boundary. But all the orange paint made me think of our young neighbor, Kyan, and as it turns out he was on my brain for a great reason–he’s been in remission for the past six months following his bone marrow transplant and today had his central line removed. No wonder we spent an hour following those orange blazes. All the while, however, we did think the trails were poorly marked.

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Unwittingly, we spotted a bit of brown–on the picnic table. We appeared to be on a high spot, home to the table and a cairn garden.

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I’m of several minds when it comes to cairns. I know that some are historical and symbolic and others mark trails, but these, though each different in sculptural form, bothered me.

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While my guy saw them as offering hikers something to do, I saw them as disruptive to the natural landscape. That being said, the landscape was formed by a glacier and these pieces spoke to the bedrock geology of the Sebago pluton with their pinkish coloration.

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Turns out we were at the summit of the Lookout Trail, the highest point in the park at 499 feet. And behind the cairn park, we found the trail itself, blazed with red triangles, which we followed down to the campground road where we found a map–worth kneeling and worshiping. Well, actually, given the snow depth, that was the easiest way to read it. From that point forward, we found “You Are Here” maps whenever trails intersected, though we did tend to wander off occasionally.

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Over a brook, where balls of ice formed,

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past artist conks decorating a decaying birch tree,

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and through woods featuring the braided ridges of black locust bark, we hiked.

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And then we reached the beach. On Sebago Lake.

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We’d arrived at Witch Cove Beach.

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The wind had kicked up the waves and it felt almost ocean like. Almost.

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Certainly, tree roots beside the lake spoke to wave action and higher tides (no, the lake doesn’t have a tide, but in storms and floods it must surge higher). Beside the water, a red maple and pitch pine tree embraced from their root source.

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The bark of the pitch pine featured its reddish plates surrounded by deep furrows.

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While it’s similar to red pine bark that grows nearby, there are subtle differences–red pine bark being plated but much thinner and tighter to the trunk. Plus, the pitch pine has bundles of three needles, while the red features two needles.

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The other unique characteristic of pitch pines, their epicormic sprouting of needles on the trunk that grow from dormant buds on the bark.

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Eventually, we moved on, leaving prints in our wake.

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Our substrate switched from snow to sand and back to snow, which we much preferred.

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Before we turned away from the beach, we found the sand goddess eyeing the world. Again, we noted the orange and thought of Ky, but didn’t truly realize its significance.

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Into the picnic area we moved, after watching a few deer who eventually flashed their white tails before moving on. Lunch table beckoned us. It needs some fresh stain–there’s job security in that thought–for the park staff and my guy.

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Some tables spoke to the snow depth.

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After we finished our sandwiches, we discovered that others had used the picnic ground–for a cache site. Somewhere in the park, at least one red squirrel prospered through the winter.

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Our journey took us past the glacial kettle formed by the melting of large blocks of ice.

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And then we figured out our final trails to follow.

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We crossed Thompson Point Road and followed the oxbows and meandering of Songo River, which actually proved to be bittersweet. I’d only been on the river twice and both with the milfoil team of the Lakes Environmental Association. As we hiked beside it today, I recognized various points Adam Perron, the milfoil dude had pointed out. Again I say, RIP Adam.

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At last we reached Horseshoe Bog, home to one of those picnic tables needing work. You know who spied it from a mile off.

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He also spied the work of others and eagerly showed me.

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My what big teeth grooves a beaver leaves.

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It left its mark everywhere.

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And sometimes such works met the forces of nature and all was well that ended well.

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The same could be said for us. We began the day on a trail that wasn’t and ended by trying to follow a spur trail out, that we couldn’t quite locate (except for the sign at the beginning that identified it as a spur trail) and so we bushwhacked and then an anomaly caught our eyes–snow on a structure, which turned out to be the entry booth from which we’d begun our expedition.

As it turns out, we realized that our adventure thirty years ago was on the east (Casco) side of the park and this was our first visit to the west (Naples) side. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take us thirty more years to return for another Mondate–indeed.