Volunteers build outdoor classroom at Holt Forest
It was like a barn raising – only without the barn. Over three days this summer, volunteers from across Maine’s forest community helped create an outdoor classroom pavilion for the Maine TREE Foundation at the Holt Research Forest in Arrowsic.
“Maine TREE is excited about the opportunity to bring teachers, students and the community into closer contact with the research, data and hands-on experience at our own Holt Forest,” said Sherry Huber, executive director. “We are especially grateful to University of Maine resident scientist Jack Witham, Maine SFI Director Patrick Sirois and all the volunteers who pitched in and to those who donated materials to make our Outdoor Classroom a reality over this past summer.” (See list below)
Al Cowperthwaite, director of North Maine Woods, drove four hours on August 30 to bring a high-quality outhouse to the site. He then had the skill to back his truck and the outhouse down a very narrow road – more like a path really – into the woods behind the worksite. He got plenty of good-natured advice from his fellow volunteers along the way.
“We may have had too many cooks at the beginning,” joked Kevin McCarthy, “but once we got focused we really were able to accomplish a lot together.”
McCarthy is a member of the Outreach Committee of the SFI Implementation Committee (SIC), and also president of the TREE Foundation Board. He and the rest of the crew worked hard, but also enjoyed the collaboration with old and new friends.
“It’s a very diverse group of people and they’re all volunteers – nobody had to be there,” McCarthy said. “We have fun, but we were there because it’s a great project.”
The first day of work was June 23, said Mike St. Peter, executive director of Certified Logging Professionals, who came from Jackman to help. CLP Board members brought their equipment and UMaine students also pitched in to clear trees from the site of the outdoor classroom, access road and off-road parking area.
“CLP instructor John Cullen incorporated directional felling instruction with the students while clearing an area for the classroom,” St. Peter said. “Education played a part in the actual construction of the project. The day went well with a safe and productive crew, great weather, and no ticks! All merchantable wood was salvaged and skilled directional felling resulted in no damage to adjoining residual stand.”
For more than three decades, scientists from the University of Maine have been studying the tract of oak-pine forest, which was offered to the university for research by William and Winifred Holt. Their family endowed the Holt Woodland Research Foundation and donated funds to the university for its long-term forest ecosystem study until 2014, when the foundation merged with the Maine TREE Foundation.
The 100-acre study area, dominated by oak and pine, is within a tract of nearly 300 acres. Wetlands, primarily salt marsh, make up an additional 50 acres, Witham said. The property is bordered by the Back River, an estuarine branch of the Kennebec River, on the east. Sewell Pond, the only Great Pond on Arrowsic Island, and Route 127 form the western boundary. The property is bisected by Old Stage Road with the eastern portion as the principal land base used for research. See A Long-Term Study of an Oak Pine Forest Ecosystem: A Brief Overview of the Holt Research Forest.
The SIC Outreach Committee thought building the outdoor classroom “was a worthwhile project to do and we wanted to be part of it,” Sirois said. “We’ve done similar projects with Habitat for Humanity in the past and we have sort of a trained crew who shows up when we take on one of these projects.”
Sirois also had a special interest in the project because he worked on the research forest at the beginning.
“We cut this wood lot for the research project,” Sirois said. “We harvested 50 acres out of the 100 acre research area. There were 2 ½ acre lots organized like a checkerboard and they randomly selected the blocks that they wanted to harvest versus the ones that were the controls. So for me it was fun to come back.”
The forest research plan emphasized two major goals, Witham said, to monitor long-term changes in the forest’s plant and animal populations and to document the effect of forest management on these populations.
“We did about a 40 percent removal and we’ve really been studying the response of those canopy gaps that we created by the harvest and what’s grown in,” he said. “It’s all natural regeneration. No tree planting at all. The pine is regenerating incredibly well; red maple is doing well. Red oak is very difficult to regenerate. The deer seem to munch it all up.”
Many groups have visited the research forest for educational programs, including landowners, natural resource professionals, foresters, loggers, and wildlife people, but the outdoor classroom will expand educational outreach.
“We’ve always thought it would be nice to have a place under cover,” Witham said. “This will enable Project Learning Tree workshops here and we’ve been setting up some meetings with some of the local schools. Teachers from Georgetown already have been here to do a workshop.”
McCarthy, who was working on Sept. 2, when the outdoor classroom was completed, is excited about the new opportunities for teaching children and adults about Maine’s forests.
“I think it’s got tremendous potential,” he said, “and the next step will be to promote its use.”
- Volunteers: Pat Sirois, Dave Griswold, Jack Witham, Al Kimble, Scott Pease, Tim Richards, Gordon Gamble, Kevin Doran, Al Cowperthwaite, John Starrett, Kevin McCarthy, John Cullen,
Mike St. Peter, Erik Carlson and Steve Laweryson. UMaine students Ethan Hill, Ryan Karroll, and Todd Douglass helped with the clearing as did Clarke Cooper, a UMaine employee at the Holt Forest for the summer.
- Materials for the Outdoor Classroom Pavilion were donated by Hancock Lumber, Huber Engineered Woods, Viking Lumber and Mainely Trusses. Support also was received from Maine Forest Service Project Canopy, the Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust, the Elmina Sewall Foundation and the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust. Robbins Construction of Arrowsic loaned the staging that made the job much easier.