Notes from The Nature Conservancy

August 21, 2013 News No Comments

Day 1 – Maine really is about Rivers

This is a landscape defined by its rivers:  the Penobscot, the Piscataquis, the Pleasant, the Sebec River, Alder stream.  As you ride think about connections rivers make and see what barriers you find as you travel.  Roads themselves can be barriers to streams as we try to manage the flow of water underneath them.  The ride today is covering ground that all eventually drains into the mighty Penobscot.  You will see parts of the Penobscot River Restoration Project which is one of the largest, most creative river restoration projects in our nation’s history.  In an unprecedented collaboration, the Penobscot Indian Nation, seven conservation groups, hydropower companies PPL Corporation and Black Bear Hydro, LLC, and state and federal agencies, are working together to restore 11 species of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River, while maintaining energy production.  Successful implementation of the project will revive not only native fisheries but social, cultural and economic traditions of New England’s second largest river- the Penobscot.  For more information go to

Day 1The Ride starts along the Penobscot River itself, and then travels through a very flat area defined by large fens and bogs including the Caribou bog complex.  This nearly 6,000 acre area comprises one of the largest wetland systems in Maine.  The landscape remains flat as you travel north past Alder stream which lies adjacent to the route just south of Derby.  This area is a mosaic of a large fen complexes, farmland and forest.

After lunch in Milo, follow the Pleasant River where the topography gets hillier and is more heavily forested.  You will see views of Mt.  Katahdin which is the headwaters of the Penobscot River.  Make sure you come back to Brownville area some time and visit Katahdin Iron Works, a Maine state historic site and Gulf Hagas, a canyon on the West Branch of the Pleasant River that is a National Natural Landmark.  About a mile and a half downriver is another national landmark, “The Hermitage,” a roughly 35-acre grove of large Eastern White Pine trees that is preserved by The Nature Conservancy.  In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club acquired a 37,000-acre (15,000 ha) property upriver from Gulf Hagas that it named Katahdin Iron Works.  By the end of the day, you will return to the extensive farmland along the Piscataquis River floodplain west to Dover-Foxcroft.


Day 2 – Farms in Maine

Day 2Much of today’s ride passes through a mosaic of forests and farmlands.  Agricultural land contributes to a number of important elements supporting Maine’s character.  It provides food, jobs, recreation – in fact it supports our rural communities in essential ways.  It also provides important wildlife habitat especially for those species that need to travel long distances.  Many farmland owners also own woodlots and river and stream corridors that provide places for wildlife to live and breed.  When farmers keep the areas along their streams forested, the streams are buffered from agriculture run-off.  Additionally, these forested areas often provide riparian travel corridors for stream-dependent species, like mink and otter.

In Maine, the amount of land in agriculture production has been declining steadily for a century.  In recent decades the pace of housing and other development has accelerated the rate of farmland conversion.  Only about 0.5% of Maine’s prime agricultural soils have been permanently protected for farming purposes.  Today, land trusts across the state are working to find ways to slow the pace of farmland conversion.  Land Trusts work with interested farmers to conserve their lands as farms forever.

To the west of your lunch stop lies in an area called Unity Wetlands, where lots of farm land protection has occurred thanks to the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust and others.  Unity Wetlands is one of the largest remaining un-fragmented areas of natural land in central Maine and it is also one of Maine’s most productive dairy farm areas.  Its protection offers a promising opportunity to keep freshwater and wetland fish and dragonflies healthy and also for maintaining the space that wide ranging species like black bear and bobcat need to thrive.


Day 3Penobscot Bay – Where the river meets the Ocean

In New England, the historic abundance of our seas has defined our coastal way of life for thousands of years.  These seas provide food and support economic vitality in small coastal communities.  But even the sea has limits.  Ocean health is declining, especially in coastal waters that harbor a broad diversity wildlife and natural resources.  To meet these challenges, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is using a holistic approach to change the way oceans are protected, restored and managed around the world.

First, many people are focused on the need to reconnect Maine’s rivers and streams to the ocean.  Shad, Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, eels and many other fish need to be able to move freely between the ocean and freshwater tributaries to complete their life cycles.  By reconnecting rivers, we are restoring sea-running fish and improving the chances that ocean fish (cod, haddock) have food to eat as their populations rebound.

At the same time it is important to restore and protect coastal habitats while supporting coastal communities.  Conservation efforts in Penobscot Bay by TNC and many others is crucial to keeping the water flowing into the bay clean.  Near shore coastal habitats like salt marshes and eelgrass beds provide critical habitat for a variety of fish and waterfowl species.  They also provide critical ecosystem services for humans, including water filtration and buffering from storm surges.  By promoting sensible local, state and regional water management practices that reduce pollution and nitrogen levels, we aim to improve water quality in the rivers feeding the Gulf.

Across the Gulf of Maine TNC has purchased commercial fishing permits.  Why? We make quota from these permits available to local fishermen who perform research and adopt more sustainable fishing practices.  The permits let us collaborate directly with fishermen to obtain important data and try gear and fishing techniques that reduce catch of unwanted fish and increase efficiency.

The ocean is a busy place, where many uses—from wind and tidal development to shipping traffic–can conflict with conservation goals.  TNC is working with state and federal agencies across New England and the US to promote better ocean management practices.


Day 4 – Tidal flats and Coastal Islands

Today, you are heading toward the dramatic coast of Acadia.  The ride begins in beautiful Castine, home of Maine Maritime Academy and winds around the Bagaduce River.  The Bagaduce River is one of only a few places in Maine where horseshoe crabs are known to breed.  And although the river is only about 12 miles long, it is one of the most productive estuaries in Maine because of its narrow constriction and broad coves.  The tidal fluctuations within its protected waterways provide excellent conditions for a productive shellfishery.  The intertidal flats beyond the Narrows include more than 1000 acres of habitat for soft-shell clams, marine worms, and other invertebrates.  Waterfowl and wading birds flock to this critical habitat to feed, breed, and rest here during migration.

Day 4As you make your way toward Acadia National Park, think about the wildness of the islands just off this coast.  Many of Maine’s coastal islands have been protected by organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The National Park Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge for example, contains more than 55 offshore islands and four coastal parcels, totaling more than 8,200 acres.  The complex spans more than 250 miles of Maine coastline.  According to the Refuge, Native Americans have used the coast’s natural resources for more than 4,000 years.  The Red Paint people camped on offshore islands in the summer and fished the deep ocean waters.  Although they hunted seabirds and their eggs, they used sustainable methods, limiting harvest to certain islands and only hunted any one colony once every three years.  Europeans began settling the islands in the 1600s, farming and raising sheep and hogs.  The livestock  disturbed nesting seabirds and trampled their habitat.  The people hunted the birds and collected their eggs.  At the start of the 20th Century, most seabirds in the Gulf of Maine were on the brink of extinction.  Today, because of extensive policy efforts and conservation, these islands once again provide an important home for a diversity of sea-birds.


Day 6 – High Tides and blueberries

Day6As you leave Bar Harbor you get to think about how today will take you through a myriad of landscapes.  Think of this as a day of changes and think about how climate change will likely affect what this area looks like in the years to come.

You will begin the day peddling along the Acadia coast where you will see extensive tidal flats of Taunton Bay.  Watch for bald eagle as you ride – Taunton Bay is home to quite a few nesting pair!  Taunton Bay has high tidal fluctuations that create expansive tidal estuaries.  The large tidal range and freshwater tributaries in this region produce conditions that effectively mix nutrients with dissolved gases and create incredibly productive waters.  Tidal estuaries play a critical role in making the Gulf of Maine one of the most productive water bodies in the world.  They also provide important fish spawning habitat for a number of migratory including alewives and American eel.  Areas like these will likely be impacted by a rising ocean as the climate warms, so it is important to keep this area as unrestricted by sea-walls and other structures that disrupt sediment inputs from natural erosion processes and reduces the pro­ductivity of mudflats.  It’s also important to keep the surrounding lands undeveloped in hopes that the marshes will have room to “migrate” as sea levels rise.

After about half the day along the coast, you will head north through some of Maine’s blueberry country.  As you make your way across rolling hills, you’ll see the thin soils and rocky barrens where Maine’s smaller low bush blueberries thrive.  You will then head west and then south through a much flatter topography and along Graham Lake.  This lake is created by a large impoundment because of the dam at its south end.


Day 7 – Forests of the Lower Penobscot

Today you will head back along the hills of route 1A then north along the western shore Graham Lake.  As you begin heading northwest into hillier terrain you are heading into an area whose private forest lands are rated as the most threatened by development in the nation by the US Forest Service.  This is a natural landscape shaped by ice and water.  Groundwater draining through the glacial deposits feeds miles of wetlands.  This land supports acres of old-growth spruce-fir forests and spruce flats, which are becoming rare in the Northeast, and the second largest red pine woodland documented in the state.  Hidden trails lead to remote ponds, and Sunkhaze Stream supports a natural trout hatchery.  On sections of the Union River, a paddler can go for miles without seeing signs of human impact.  This is why, The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Society of Maine, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands and many others are working to keep this land in forestry forever and allow some particularly special places to be conserved for nature to take its course.

Day7Turning west toward Eddington, you turn back toward the Penobscot River (see day 1).  While you won’t be able to see the deconstruction in action keep in mind that this River is being revitalized as you ride!  As you cross the river in Millford you will see on your right, the Milford Dam, owned by Black Bear Hydro and part of the Penobscot Project.  This will become the first dam on the River.  Here hydro production will continue and you may see the ongoing construction of a new fish elevator– this will move species like Atlantic salmon and Alewives into the upper reaches of the River, allowing them to spawn in the cold northern waters.  As you pass through Old Town, you will be near the home of Old Town Canoe and near the Penobscot Indian Nation’s lands and waters.  With successful completion of the Penobscot Project, the Penobscot Indian Nation will be able to more fully utilize their treaty-reserved fishing rights, and the essential cultural and spiritual values that go hand in hand with these rights, while supporting economic growth within the community.  Restored fisheries will help support outdoor traditions shared through the generations, and someday restore those that have been lost, such as Maine’s fabled salmon fishing.  A freely flowing river will reinvigorate outdoor recreation opportunities such as fishing, fly-tying, fly rod-making, canoe building, bird-watching, and paddling.  And a beautiful river to bike along!




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