October 5, 2013

Deirdre Fleming: Maine Woods Forever celebrating vital part of state's history

It sounds like the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Great Maine Outdoors Weekend, but Maine Woods Forever is its own deal.

The nonprofit group of woods-loving outdoors people, put simply, celebrates the North Maine Woods and works to educate others about it.

The group's newest projects include a kiosk on Indian Island that commemorates the journey taken by Henry David Thoreau and his Wabanaki guides, and a year-long celebration of the Maine woods.

The most-forested state in the nation, Maine's identity as a forest-products and woodland destination is often overlooked, said Maine Woods Forever member Paul Johnson.

"This whole project is an awareness thing. But we're not the first to do this. People have been doing this for thousands of years, Thoreau being one of the first eco-tourists," said Johnson, a former 30-year state fisheries biologist in the Moosehead region.

The kiosk unveiled last week at Indian Island is one of many that will be installed along the Thoreau-Wabanaki trail. It's not a river route like the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, but it is a travel corridor used by Maine's Wabanaki people for thousands of years.

The Thoreau-Wabanaki trail, as its name suggests, follows the route taken by Thoreau and his Penobscot guides, Joseph Attean and Joe Polis. The historic route also marks places passed through and visited by the Penobscot people.

"The Penobscot Indians have been here since the ice sheet receded. That's a long time," Johnson said.

Thoreau traveled in 1846 from Bangor to Indian Island, then north to Mattawamkeag by way of the Penobscot River and up the West Branch of the Penobscot to Mount Katahdin.

In 1853 and 1857 he returned and traveled as far north as Chamberlain and Moosehead lakes with his two Penobscot guides.

The Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail kiosk celebrates the fact Thoreau found his way with the help of Penobscot guides.

The first kiosk was placed in Greenville beside Moosehead Lake in 2007. Other kiosks are planned for Matagammon Lake, beside the East and West Branch of the Penobscot River, and in Bangor, where Thoreau arrived by steamship.

The year-long celebration that Maine Woods Forever just began is another attempt to engender a greater understanding about the Maine woods. Called "Celebrating the Maine Woods," the effort is similar to what the outdoor coalition responsible for the Great Maine Outdoors Weekend did, except the woods people are doing it across an entire year, starting this month.

Looking for any and all outdoor events related to the Maine woods, the group will help draw awareness to these opportunities.

"As much as 90 percent of Maine is forested. How many people know that?" Johnson said.

Johnson said the celebration is not simply about education. It's a call to consider where we live and how we want to take care of the land around us.

"We believe the woods of Maine is where it's at," Johnson said.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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