JEFFERSON — The simple black-and-white sign hanging casually on Egypt Road beside the entrance of the wilderness area told only part of the story. The 1,000 acres of forestland; the beaver dam at the large bog; the birch trees lining the path to Little Dyer Pond; and the undeveloped shore of the 109-acre pond told the rest of this developing tale.
At Hidden Valley Nature Center, the potential for wilderness discovery abounds and has grown since 2009 when this grassroots, literally homegrown outdoor organization started. Today Hidden Valley has as many as 50 programs a year; a vast network of interpretive signs about forestry, botany and ecology; and seminars on innovative forestry practices that have put this nature center on the map.
Last month Hidden Valley was named the Maine Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by the American Tree Farm System because of its forestry seminars, the innovative forestry practices taught here and its unique “stump-to-hut” timber-frame building classes. Hidden Valley is one of the two regional finalists, and one of the eight national finalists that could be named the nation’s top tree farm.
On the heels of that news, the Hidden Valley founders decided three weeks ago the time was right to take a big step forward and build a headquarters that would serve as a classroom, a welcome gathering space and an outdoor pavilion where the unusual timber-frame classes could be taught.
“It was a great endorsement of the work we’re doing here,” said Hidden Valley Director Andy McEvoy.
Andy Shultz, the Maine Forest Services’ landowner outreach forester, said the honor has not been bestowed on a Maine tree farm in about 10 years. Shultz said the service often partners with Hidden Valley to teach the best forestry practices to loggers because Hidden Valley trails, bridges and roads showcase these practices.
“To be a regional finalist is a fairly big deal,” Shultz said. “We have a lot of trees, woods and a lot of tree farmers in Maine. Timber management and logging in the woods is competitive here.”
The unique nature center was started by landowners and loggers Bambi Jones and David Moskovitz five years ago after they purchased about 1,000 acres around Little Dyer Pond. Today it is run by and populated with the back-to-nature tribe in this Midcoast region.
These ardent naturalists – some 800 members – have been the ingredient in the nature center’s growth and success, McEvoy said. They are its teachers, tour guides, trail stewards and resident artists.
But the mission here always has focused on teaching sustainable forestry.
Now a headquarters that could be used as a protected outdoor classroom as well as a lakeside educational outpost cabin will help spread Hidden Valley’s reach, McEvoy said.
And in typical Hidden Valley fashion, these inside gathering places will focus on the outside world.
The larger, multipurpose building will be mostly an open-air, pavilion-style classroom protected by an overhanging roof with only a third of the building contained and closed in. The lakeside cabin will be small, but with windows opening to views of Little Dyer Pond.
“Like all things at Hidden Valley, we want to keep it simple,” McEvoy said and smiled.
At the very least, McEvoy said two scaled-down versions of each building – costing a total of roughly $32,000 – will be built by the fall. Hidden Valley already has raised $19,005 in three weeks and is close to securing a matching $8,000 grant, he said.
The hope is to outfit both buildings with amenities such as a solar system, a concrete foundation and other upgrades, which would bring the project’s total cost to $75,000.
Hidden Valley already offers 30 miles of groomed Nordic trails in the winter, 30 miles of trails in the summer, as well as two cabins to rent and six canoes to use.
A headquarters, McEvoy said, will pull more people in, train more woodlot owners in sustainable forestry practices and grow the Hidden Valley land-loving ethic in Maine.
“The timber-frame classes are very popular and a big part of our mission. All the product is harvested on site. And it’s a great way to make a connection with the land and to see a sustainable use of the resource,” McEvoy said.
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: