December 23, 2012

Hidden Valley in Jefferson for all to see

A veritable outdoor museum largely run by volunteers shows that Maine's woods are also lovely, dark and deep – and more.

By Deirdre Fleming
Staff Writer

JEFFERSON - It's only 1,000 acres and out of the way, but Hidden Valley Nature Center keeps tossing out unique and educational programs meant to lure new visitors here, and almost all of those programs are run by volunteers.

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Joe Barth, left, inspects the lung lichen on a tree during a hike of two trails in the Hidden Valley Nature Center while retired teacher and volunteer Chuck Dinsmore, right, lectures to Hannah Lee Mencher and Sarah Wineberg.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Sarah Wineberg, a winter intern from the College of the Atlantic, gets a close-up view of a twig during a hike at the Hidden Valley Nature Center.

Gordon Chibroski

Additional Photos Below

The place is like a giant natural co-op shop.

Most recently, Hidden Valley has put out a unique nature trail guide, the first in what will become a library of interactive field guides.

The "Moose Valley-Couch Hill Nature Trail Guide" was written by summer resident Dan Townsend, a Pennyslvania professor who is one of the nature center's army of expert volunteers.

A Davis Conservation Foundation grant paid for the nature guide, which covers some of the flora and fauna across several different forest ecosystems along a half-mile trail. But the trail also has 20 posts set beside specific plants, trees and vegetation that are all explained in Townsend's trail guide.

It's a veritable outdoor museum.

Eventually, Townsend wants to put the trail guide on a podcast so students can walk through the trail without a paper brochure and with a museum-style audio recording explaining exactly what they see at each station.

"Ultimately, we'd like to do others, including one for fall-winter. I think I might like to do some woody plants, trees and shrubs. HVNC lends itself to such interpretive guides. It's a wonderful place where people can explore the natural world. It has enough diversity; it's not just a single habitat," said Townsend, a professor of biology at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

Townsend said the technique of matching the trail guide with posts along a trail where there are specific examples of trees and lichen is a bit different from other nature guides he's seen across the country. He's proud of this booklet offered at the center beside his summer home. And it's just $2.

"I think it's an effective technique for teaching. ... It's more holistic, it relates to what came before and what comes after," Townsend said.

The project is just one of the new natural science exercises and lessons at the nature center, but there will be more.

This past year, Nature Center co-owner and founder Bambi Jones graduated with several Hidden Valley members from Maine's first Master Naturalist program, a nine-month course that required rigorous course work.

The program graduated just a third of the 25 who went through it. And Hidden Valley inherited three to four of the Master Naturalist graduates charged with sharing their newfound knowledge. They're giving nature tours at Hidden Valley now.

As Jones stops at the nature trail stations along the Moose Valley trail and considers a tree, ages it and determines the species, she wonders aloud about its unique features. She is owner and founder here, along with David Moskovitz, but like the other Hidden Valley volunteers, the nature center is also her passion.

"Do I know everything there is to know? The answer is definitely no. What the course taught me was a little about a lot of subjects, whetting my appetite to learn more about many of them. And it gave me the tools to figure out what and why things are," Jones said.

To learn more about Hidden Valley Nature Center, go to

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

Twitter: FlemingPph


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Additional Photos

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Dr. Dan Townsend, author of “Moose Alley-Couch Hill Nature Trail Guide,” leads a hike with Chuck Dinsmore, right.

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Information tags were the only source of identifying trees until summer resident and volunteer Townsend’s new trail guide.

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Ann-Marie Ames of Chelsea uses Townsend’s guide to identify trees during a hike of two trails in the Hidden Valley Nature Center.

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