Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 3, 2014
Barred Island: A 21st century walk and talk
Marnie and Ken Crowell display the resources available for a nature walk on Barred Island, Maine, in June 2014.
by Peter Cooperdock
Long-time trail guides Marnie and Ken Crowell took to the woods Friday, June 20, to begin an exploration of Barred Island, using 21st century technology.
A group of enthusiastic naturalists met at the parking area for the Barred Island Preserve, greeted by the Crowells and their display of accompanying books and pamphlets. It soon became apparent that the best information was in their heads as their knowledge and wisdom was shared with the group.
The greatest enthusiasm involved the introduction of self-guided nature trail guides in PDF format. The guides can be downloaded to a tablet or smart phone and used on the many trails of the Island Heritage Trust as guided tours with corresponding numbers on the trails. Some guides can be downloaded on site, but for those trails with poor reception the guides can be downloaded at home (deerisle.com/deerinature-self-guid ed-nature-trails/) and brought on the tablet or phone. This effort has been spearheaded by the Crowells with support from the Deer Isle-Stonington Chamber of Commerce and the Island Heritage Trust.
With all the discussion about technology and access to online guides, this group had the real deal with Marnie and Ken Crowell offering endless tidbits of information. The hike started off splitting a sea of bunchberries while they commented that they’d discovered that the flowering bunchberry has six leaves while the non-flowering has only four. The bunchberry is a small shrub, only about 4 inches tall and is our native dogwood.
They mentioned that they’d decided to study mosses and lichen, determined to find the easiest six of each to share with others. These mosses and lichens are found in a variety of shapes, sizes, and locations from dry to wet to up the sides of trees. The phenomena of moss growing at the bottom of trees where rain water collects was interesting.
The trail wound through deep moss- and lichen-covered forest floor beneath the common spruce/fir canopy. The covering of moss and lichen is indicative of shallow to bedrock conditions with little soil. The trail went through a wet area where bridges have been constructed to avoid impacting the wet soil that has accumulated in this basin within the bedrock with no outlet. A bog was located a short distance off trail where no trees grow.
At the height of the land, boulders and bedrock faces added an additional layer of interest to the displays as more information was exchanged. Species of birds were pointed out from the various songs heard and then the procession stopped as a discussion ensued over the scat found in the trail. Had a fox deposited here or was it a raccoon? The shape, size, and texture were examined without touching it with the conclusion that it was likely fox.
A pile of cone scales was found and described as a red squirrel midden, where the squirrel will habitually come to tear apart spruce or fir cones and extract the seeds for nourishment. A stonewall was explained as a former boundary between farm fields, although this was likely a pasture at the time it was cleared. Looking around at the shallow soil, and plethora of boulders and bedrock outcrops, gave the group pause concerning the attempt to make a living farming this land.
After crossing a private road, the trail gained glimpses of the sea and areas where clearing had once been done. It was pointed out that the variety and layering of the forest are important to its health—and the interest in open forest beneath a canopy may be suitable to a park—but a forest needs the ground cover, the ferns, the young trees, and the older trees to maximize its suitability as an ecological unit. A forest operation years ago took out some trees which led to the remainder blowing down. New growth has reestablished and the forest flourishes again.
In some of the open places, mountain cranberry could be found flowering, destined to make edible fruit for forest animals and any people interested in picking this delicacy. The sea beckoned the group forward, rewarded with the exposed bar at low tide with access to Barred Island.
Barred Island Preserve is located in Sunset down the Goose Cove Road. It is managed by Island Heritage Trust and owned by The Nature Conservancy. It offers views of Isle au Haut and Mark Island.