Category Archives: July 20

Thanks to a rock band, pursuing a career in getting kids and adults out into the natural world

When Kirk Gentalen talks about what got him thinking about pursuing a career in environmental education and management he doesn’t point to the influence of a favorite teacher or a childhood spent camping and hiking. Instead, he credits the Grateful Dead.

“It was going to the band’s concerts in high school and being exposed to different ways of thinking. Beyond the stage there were always booths devoted to different topics and issues—simple things like recycling that I hadn’t thought about before.”

Another formative experience for the New Jersey native was spending three weeks studying milkweed on Hardwood Island in Blue Hill Bay near Mount Desert Island. “I went to my guidance counselor at the end of my junior year in high school and said I wanted to do a summer science camp,” Gentalen recalls. “He went to his filing cabinet and picked out the thinnest file in the drawer. It was about the Maine Island Ecology program on Hardwood Island. That seemed perfect.”

While at Hardwood, Gentalen traded t-shirts with another camper. “The one she gave me was covered with banana slugs, which got me interested in the University of California Santa Cruz—the Fighting Banana Slugs!” At Santa Cruz Gentalen majored in Environmental Studies. Following graduation in 1992 he began working in environmental education, mostly at three- or four-month summer camps.

Gentalen’s choice of which camps to apply to for work was often motivated by a desire to see some bird or environment that piqued his interest. “I left California for Ohio—the warblers out there are just not as cool as back here so I ended up back east a lot. Here there are many more species and many more niches. I like the diversity and seeing how different niches developed.” His summer travels eventually took him to Wisconsin, Tennessee, Cape Cod, Georgia, Washington state and back to California. Along the way he met up with Amy Palmer, to whom he is now married. While out in California the couple also spent several summers doing eco-tourism work in Homer, Alaska.

As Palmer worked on completing a master’s degree in teaching the couple contemplated their next move, this time, they thought, to a more permanent location. “We had things lining up in California when we decided that maybe it would be good to relocate to a place closer to Amy’s parents in upstate New York,” Gentalen says. “So I said, how about getting a job on an island in Maine? And within a couple of weeks that’s what she did—she got a job teaching at the school on Vinalhaven.”

Gentalen and Palmer spent 11 years on Vinalhaven, from 2004 to 2015. That is where their son, Leif, who is now eight years old, was born. Gentalen again found summer work at Tanglewood Camp in Lincolnville and with a whale watch business in Bar Harbor. But in 2007 he began working year-round for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), taking the post of “regional steward” for Vinalhaven and North Haven, a position he still holds.

The work of each MCHT regional steward differs according to the specific needs of each region and the skills and experience each brings to the job, Gentalen explains. “My main job is to provide access for open space on the islands through trail maintenance or forestry, like attacking invasives, building bridges or waterbars to prevent erosion, or chain sawing. I also monitor easements—mainly for views either from the water or the land—to make sure people are doing what they’ve agreed to do.”

And because of his background in environmental education, especially with young people, a big piece of Gentalen’s job is to do outreach with schools. “I work with kids on Vinalhaven, but I also do a lot of walks and talks with kids around the state.” Although Amanda Devine is the regional steward for the St. George area, this past year Gentalen worked with her and St. George School science teacher Alison England and her 8th grade students studying vernal pools in the Bamford Preserve at Long Cove.

While his work for MCHT had familiarized him with St. George, his ties to the town have grown stronger since he and his family moved to St. George from Vinalhaven in 2015, when Palmer took a job teaching at the St. George School. Last year, for example, Gentalen became a Cub Scout den leader here. He also has helped out with the Girl Scouts and begun leading occasional nature walks for the Jackson Memorial Library.

Gentalen and his family also recently bought a house near the end of Watts Avenue in Tenants Harbor. Most exciting for Gentalen is that their new property reaches right down to the Tenants Harbor marsh not far from a beaver dam. “We totally lucked out on this spot.” Gentalen says. “The other day I photographed 10 different species of dragonflies! I’m also a big otter guy. The first time I went down to the beaver dam I went down to this point of land and found an otter latrine. I was standing there looking at it when I heard this snorting sound. I turned around and there were two otters looking at me.”

Encouraging people to get out into the natural landscape is something Gentalen enjoys and believes stimulates conservation mindedness. “We’ve been doing these Thursday morning bird walks out on Vinalhaven for seven years. And when we first did them there weren’t that many hikes offered and people came along just to see where we were going to go so they could come out and hike later. Anytime you can get people out there is just great. It has just been impressive to me, from when I was a kid until now, how much more conscious people are of the environment.” —JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

The early history of the quarry at Long Cove

This is the first of two columns on the history of the Long Cove quarry, covering the time frame up to 1900.  Most of the information comes from local newspapers, labor union reports, census records and the books On Solid Granite by Margaret Graham Neeson and Tombstones and Paving Blocks by Roger L Grindle.

Long Cove quarry saw its beginning in 1875.   James M Smith, Joseph Hume and William Birss were partners in the foundation of the Long Cove Granite Co.  In an 1877 newspaper article it was reported that the quarry had shipped 38 tons of granite and employed from 60 to 100 men.  In late 1879 the company got the contract for the completion of the government building in Albany, N.Y., and work was expected to last a year.  Earlier granite supplied for this building came from Spruce Head.

In the 1880 census of St George there were some quarry workers in the Smalleytown area–just north of Long Cove–and although most of them were local families, there were some from Canada and a few from England and Scotland.  A boarding house for workers doesn’t appear in the 1880 census, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.  In June 1880 a local branch of the Granite Cutters International Union was created at Long Cove and while work continued on the Albany contract, the paving cutters at Long Cove were responsible for cutting 500,000 blocks in 1880.

The cutting for the Albany contract was completed by the fall of 1881 and it was reported that some of the men then left “for other parts.”  Those remaining were out of work for about a month and had started back to work when things went bad.  The local newspaper reported in October 1881 that the company had been attached by creditors. A list of property at the time of the Sheriff’s sale in March 1882 reveals the extent of operations: 3 derricks; a carpenter’s shop; crowbars, hammers and sledges; six horses; two cows; a complete blacksmithy; 300 drills; 70 kits of stone cutting tools; several carts and wagons, including two stone wagons; and various blasting equipment.  The sale also included a boarding house and a store with its contents–which included food, kerosene, chimney lamps, gun powder, 22 bottles of bay rum, 23 bottles of cologne and 12 bottles of hair oil.

The Booth Brothers Company bought the quarry and equipment at the Sheriff’s sale in 1882 for about $2,100.  Things at the Long Cove quarry during the 1880s could be described as uneventful, but turned around in 1888 with what was described as a “good busy summer.”  The 1880s finished on a mixed note with workers moving on as soon as they completed their jobs, but the company also started the construction of a railway from the quarry to the wharf.  This created optimism for the workers for the coming year.

Overall, the 1890s proved difficult for the granite industry.  There was the labor strike known as “The Great Lockout of 1892” and at a national level there was the “Panic of 1893,” which resulted in an economic depression that lasted from 1893 to 1897.  The Spanish-American War also had its effect on operations in 1898.  The local union representative reported that everything was at a standstill and was likely to remain so “until we know the issue of the war just begun.”

The early 1890s started off quite well for Long Cove, though.  Booth Brothers was awarded a contract in 1891 to build the first five stories of a $1.5 million block in Philadelphia.  To prepare for the work, the company purchased a new 36-ton capacity derrick.  It was reported in 1892 that there were 140 granite cutters, paving cutters and quarrymen busy at Long Cove.  A new steam car also arrived.  Then things went downhill.  Besides the problems that occurred during the Great Lockout, Booth Brothers had a fire in the engine house and polishing mill at Long Cove, and a schooner loaded with 21,000 paving blocks from Eagle Quarry sank in Wheeler’s Bay.

A change in technology in the granite industry occurred at Long Cove in 1895–the “Big Blast.”  The large wall of the quarry was drilled into from several angles and over 500 kegs of powder were placed in the holes.  With one single blast about 300,000 tons of granite was loosened.  Booth Brothers now had a good supply of granite for new contracts.  This approach was something new to the granite industry and proved so successful that other quarries began using the same technique.

—John M. Falla (Falla is a historian of local history who grew up in St. George and until recently served as the town’s manager.)

The Penobscot Marine Museum’s photography collection consists of more than140,000 photographic images from all over Maine, New England and beyond. More than 60,000 photos are available in PMM’s online database with more being added each week. Fine art prints are available. Visit www.Penobscot Marine Museum.org today.

PHOTO, top: PMM  Bottom, John Falla

Life on the edge: Will clamming survive?

Does this young clammer in St. George have a future as a commercial or even a recreational clammer? The mudflats he rakes contain increasing numbers of clams challenged by green crabs, milky ribbon worms and acidic water.   A panel of hands-on science experts and clammers will discuss the changes and what they mean to our St. George River. Bring your own experience and questions on Thursday, August 3 at 7 pm, town office, Tenants Harbor.  Refreshments provided.  Sponsored by the Conservation Commission and the Friends of St. George.

PHOTO: Suzanne Hall

Thank you

So last Saturday was my beautiful husband Tom Armitage’s Celebration of Life. It was the most moving, heartfelt tribute to anyone that I have ever witnessed. It seemed the entire community came together to make it all possible. From Suzanne and Sherman Hoyt who offered their beautiful property, to the St George Fire Department, the Town of St George and some of the guys at Harbor Builders to help keep us dry and comfortable. To Don Carpenter for his heartfelt and difficult eulogy. To our organizer, Fletcher Smith for everything. To Katy and George Tripp for printing the programs. To Tracy and Steve for a beautiful performance and my good friend Margot Kelley for being there for me. To my boys and their wives for all their support. To everyone who spoke and everyone who stepped up to organize the food, drive the shuttle buses, make food, clean up…. I could go on but you all know who you are and I think you know how much it meant to me and our family. I know Tom was smiling down at us. I am so proud and lucky to live in a community as this. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I also want to thank Val, Tom’s hospice nurse, for greatly improving the quality and extending his life. Much love and thanks to all.

Laura Armitage