A room with a view.

That’s what we were after when we embarked on this story.

Some find the woods more peaceful than anywhere else. Why not make everything about the experience restful?

So began our search.

While others in the media rate restaurants, beaches and beer, those of us who work on the Outdoors section wanted to pay homage to Maine’s great hoppers.

We wanted each outhouse featured to be grand in stature, whimsical in design, even thought-provoking. We wanted these renegade retreats to be ones that would inspire people to go to Maine’s most remote places.

We wanted you, kind reader, to fall in love with the idea of going where there is, well, nowhere to go.

So we give you this: the Ode to the Commode.


The composting toilets on Cow Island don’t look like outhouses, and they’re not.

“We’ve trained the staff not to call them outhouses. We call them solar toilets,” said Michael Lyle, program manager at Rippleffect.

The outdoor leadership outfit that leads paddle trips for at-risk youth and corporate groups has turned Cow Island into an open-air environmental classroom, and a model for going green.

For Rippleffect, composting toilets were the only way to go.

Seven years ago Rippleffect built its first two-room composting privy on the tiny island’s height of land. It’s got great views of Casco Bay, and where it sits amid the brush, has a wildness about it, too.

There is even history here.

“The body of the composting toilet was the concrete for the machine guns for World War I or World War II. It was the last line of defense,” Lyle said.

And best of all, this two-room outdoor bathroom is 100-percent environmentally clean. What is left below these two rooms sits two to three years and decomposes with the help of enzymes into harmless, dirt-like matter.

Solar panels help to run the heating system that expedites the decomposition.

It’s season seven for the Rippleffect hopper and it still looks like a funky, outback cabin.

And we think its twin is even better.


Walking up to the balcony outside the 3-year-old, two-room composting commode on Cow Island is enough to make any landlubber pause, no matter how much of a hurry they’re in.

“We have the best views in Casco Bay,” Lyle said and smiled.

As Rippleffect’s programs expanded dramatically over the past five years, it needed to expand its amenities on the island.

“We have 1,200 kids and 1,200 adults. Thousands of people. That’s a lot of waste,” Lyle said.

So the group found a practical solution that’s clean and somehow even happy: The second composting toilet facility, the Hipper, has a view that is unparalleled, a 180-degree scene of sea and sky.

And yet Rippleffect Executive Director Anna Klein-Christie said the views are secondary to what the public takes away from this useful lookout.

“It’s really an important teaching tool,” Klein-Christie said. “It’s part of living sustainably and protecting the environment. It is an important way to teach kids the whole story. We’re in an environmental crisis with what’s going on in the Gulf. We want them to understand the whole story.”


Steve Cayard and his wife, Angela DeRosa, have two composting toilets, one inside the house and one that is a veritable piece of outdoor art.

DeRosa installed an electric composting toilet in their house. However, Cayard, an artist who builds birch bark canoes, still prefers the one out in the woods, and so do we.

With license plates on the outside and old green bottles on the inside, the small hut has personality, and a view that is utterly peaceful.

“I like it because it’s open and I can see out, even though it has this drape,” Cayard said pushing aside a green-leaved curtain.

Behind the curtain that is hardly ever drawn is a small hut with a very large open window. It’s like a rustic toll booth facing toward the woods.

Inside, DeRosa painted the walls a pine green hue that blends in with the surrounding trees.

It’s this open-air view to the woods that turned this outdoor toilet into our favorite: It’s fun, functional and despite its retro look, forward-thinking.


Traveling Maine’s north woods, it’s common to hear about favorite lakes, epic fishing rivers and deer camps.

Rarely, however, to do you hear about a great outhouse.

L.L. Bean’s old “Fort Relief” had that renown. So we wanted to honor it even though it’s gone.

For decades, L.L. Bean has maintained two outhouses along the Appalachian Trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Willing volunteers hike in some 3.5 miles to the 18.5-mile section maintained by L.L. Bean.

Five years ago Fort Relief was torn down and replaced with a new, more improved and more fastidious outhouse.

But in the Ode to the Commode, we give points for charisma and color. Fort Relief had both.

“It lasted 20 years. We’re hoping to get 20 years out of the new ones,” said trail volunteer and L.L. Bean employee Lisa Richards.

The outhouse that replaced Fort Relief is a large, state park-type one.

But the old one, dilapidated as it was, had personality.

“We do the best we can to maintain the outhouses to keep them clean so people are not walking off the trail, to help preserve the trail and the land around it,” Richards said.

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

[email protected]