Category Archives: November 7

Taking a first step to understand—and plan for—the impact of sea level rise in St. George

Sea level rise threatens St. George roadways such as this section of Route 131 in Martinsville.

On November 14th members of the St. George community will have an opportunity to hear from representatives from the Island Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the Vinalhaven Sea-Level Rise Committee, and the Midcoast Economic Development District about the possible impact of sea level rise on municipal infrastructure and services. “I hope people will take this threat seriously,” says St. George Town Manager Tim Polky. “The first step is to raise awareness, and then figure out down the road what’s needed to address the issues.”

With its 125 miles of shoreline, sea level rise poses a number of pressing questions for St. George. What are reasonable predictions for how much sea level will rise in the next 20 years? What can we do as a community to protect our municipal infrastructure, ensure first responders can access all residents, and shore up impacted commercial and personal property?

Global sea level has risen by about eight inches since record keeping began in 1880, according to the 2017 U.S. National Climate Change Assessment. However, local sea level rise is accelerating due to two global factors. The first is the warming ocean, because water takes up more space as it warms. This increased volume of water in the Gulf of Maine is the main factor driving the anticipated higher sea levels in St. George.

The second factor adding to more water in our oceans is melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers. Conservation Commission member Dan Verillo says: “We believe that sea level rise is an aspect of climate change that will have an impact in our immediate future, that is, in less than 20 years. Other aspects of climate change are just as important, but sea level rise is not disputed any more. Data suggests that a rise of two feet cannot be avoided even if the world immediately does everything the Paris Agreement demands. Therefore, St. George should prepare for the inevitable.”

A publication by the Island Institute, “Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding,” states: “On average, sea levels are projected to rise another one to four feet globally by 2100, but sea level change will vary regionally (2017 U.S. National Climate Change Assessment). The Gulf of Maine is especially susceptible to fluctuations in sea level due to changes in the strength of the Gulf Stream and seasonal wind patterns. Sea levels in the Gulf of Maine are projected to rise faster than the global average.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), higher sea levels also mean more frequent high-tide flooding, especially due to stronger storms that are happening more often. This high-tide flooding, also called “nuisance flooding,” temporarily leads to road closures as well as overwhelmed storm drains and erosion of roadbeds. For this reason, Polky notes, St. George’s road maintenance plan is already taking future flooding into account.

There are predictions that the sea level in St. George will rise one to two feet by 2040. Most experts agree that by 2100, a year today’s kindergartners will see, at least a four-foot sea level rise in St. George is the most likely outcome. Polky and other town officials expect sea level rise could adversely affect the town’s municipal infrastructure, delivery of emergency services, planning ordinances, natural resources, tax base and local economy.

For the town’s Planning Board, for instance, rising sea level calls into question how best to apply the state-mandated shoreland zoning ordinance both in terms of new construction and in terms of existing structures that begin to enter the zone. In addition, says Planning Board chair Anne Cox, the number of shoreline stabilization projects being proposed seems to be increasing.

“As property owners have experienced higher tides, and storm-driven tides, their land has eroded,” she says. “We on the Planning Board have seen quite a few applications to stabilize the shore by adding some sort of rock “armor.” Sometimes these applications have included plans for re-vegetating behind the rock with mat-forming native plants to help hold the shoreline. I want to learn about the efficacy of these different stabilization projects. For example, I have questions about the effect of one section of shore being armored on neighboring unprotected areas. Does the addition of rock in one area increase the erosion of a neighboring area? Also, we have recently seen one stabilization project being proposed to address a stabilization effort that was inadequate after just seven years. So do these stabilization projects even work with rising sea levels?”

The likely impact of sea level rise and more frequent flooding on the local economy and the town’s budget and tax base is also a particularly thorny topic. First, marine-based businesses, which are a significant part of the town’s economy, could experience significant losses and capital costs. Second, sea level rise may seriously impact private property values—homes on the water, in particular, could lose value as the floodplain encroaches and they are forced to carry expensive flood insurance. Richard Cohen, who is on the St. George Budget Committee, asks, “What’s going to happen to the tax base when homes lose value? We have to look forward 30 years right now.”

The community meeting on sea level rise and its potential impact on municipal infrastructure and services that will be held at the town office on November 14 at 7pm, is intended to be a first step in taking that look into the future. The agenda for this meeting includes presentations by Susie Arnold of The Island Institute on the science of sea level rise and Jeremy Bell of The Nature Conservancy on computer tools for predicting how the St. George coastline will be impacted. Highlights and challenges from other communities tackling sea level rise will be presented by Gabe McPhail, Community Development and Engagement Coordinator for the Town of Vinalhaven and Bill Najpauer from the Midcoast Economic Development District. This meeting is supported by the Budget Committee, Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Select Board, St. George Municipal School District, St. George Community Development Corporation, St. George Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Association, and the Island Institute and The Nature Conservancy.


Quoted paper from Island Institute: Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding The Basics for Maine Communities Pager – Sea Level Rise.pdf

Knox County Mitigation Plan

Is Sea Level Rising?

NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer

PHOTO: Anne Cox

Of coral, tongues, and jellies

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Spindle-shaped Coral mushroom

The rains came early this fall. So early, in fact, that it was technically still summer—August even—when the rains fell that inspire our traditional fall mushroom bloom and that is fine. These early showers, however, were not followed by the September rains we’ve had the last two years. The result was a fall where many “regular” mushroom species were present in the woods, but in significantly lower numbers than the last couple of years. This inconsistency is often referred to in the business as “nature.”

The mycorrhizal fungi that produce many of the ”traditional” mushrooms are surely doing well, still living in the ground and enjoying the sugars of their symbiotic relationships with neighboring trees. For whatever reasons, this fall did not provide the right conditions for these fungi to pump out their spore-dispersing apparati (that is, mushrooms). And yes, King Boletes was one of the many affected species. Makes you appreciate those big years even a little more, as if that was even possible.

To be clear, though, we are not saying that the fall 2019 mid-coast Maine mushroom scene was a dud at all. Just a little different, as the early rains inspired different species to bloom that maybe were under-represented the last few years. On one two-mile hike my family counted over 30 Destroying Angels (Amanita virosa), way more than we’ve come to expect on a simple stroll. Did you see a lot of Destroying Angels this year? And where these angels are pure white, many of the fungal species that took advantage of the earlyish rains added an array of colors to the woods.

“I thought Coral was only found in the ocean” is an actual quote and it is a good one. There is, however, a group of mushrooms (the Coral Mushrooms–family Clavariaceae) whose fruiting bodies over the eons have adapted and developed mushrooms whose structure closely resembles that of some oceanic corals. They are a group of many colors, but their fruiting bodies remain coral-ish, and they had a bomber fall for sure!

Violet-branched Coral

White and tans are common within the Coral family, and the bright whites of Clustered Coral (Ramaria botrytis) and White Coral (Ramariopsis kunzei) seemed to line every trail and path, clumping along roots and debris. Violet-branched Coral (Clavulina amethystine), has added some nice shades of purple in the woods as well. I can go years without seeing the C. amethystine. It’s a “treat year” to see multiples in my experience. And this year certainly has been a treat!

My favorite coral (I will play favorites until the end!) this fall has been the many sightings of Spindle-shaped Yellow Coral—Clavulinopsis fusiformis. Stretching from August into early October, clumps of the Spindle-shaped Coral lit up the forest with yellow like no other mushroom. It was a pleasant arrangement. So wonderful to find!

Towards the end of October things changed and Irregular Earth Tongues (Neolecta irregularis) had taken over the “provide bright yellow along trailside” color niche. Earth Tongues (family Helotiales)—are sometimes thought of as “coral mushroom wannabes,” but these tongues are cool, oddly clubbed-shaped, and tend to be less clumpy than coral mushroom species.

Green-headed Jelly Baby

Earth tongues also happen to be representatives of the large mushroom group Ascomycetes. The kingdom of Fungi is divided in two groups–the Ascomycetes (subdivision Ascomycotina) and Basidiomycetes (subdivision Basidomycotina)—and the difference is in the development of spores. Ascomycetes’ spores develop in round, saclike microscopic structures called “asci.” Basidiomycetes’ spores develop, one source says, “on appendages protruding from variously designed (usually club-shaped) microscopic structures known as basidia.” Neat, huh? Anyway, the mushroom photos and discussion often focus on Basidiomycetes, nice to get some Ascomycetes in the mix!

Another group of Ascomycetes mushrooms representing and adding color in the woods have been the Jelly Clubs, also known as Jelly Babies. Both local flavors—Yellow-headed (Leotia lubrica) and Green-headed (Leotia viscosa)—have been doing their things and adding more fall colors. What a nice alternative to looking at leaves!

My favorite fall color is probably orange, though, and there is no better orange than the Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus). These jellies are actually Basidiomycete mushrooms and the Orange Jelly variety holds a special place in my mushroom history. There are no poisonous jelly mushrooms, and the Orange Jelly mushroom itself is tasteless and made up of something like 95% water, so they are safe to eat. They also happen to grow everywhere and with that in mind I have had the pleasure of eating this mushroom with thousands of kids all over the country. Since that impressive nor’easter a couple weeks back, the Orange Jelly seems to be lighting up the woods and, needless to say have been poppin’ in our mouths as well!

Oranges, yellows, greens, and purple—just a few of the colors that make each fall in New England so special. Only time will tell if “shroom peepin’” takes the place of “leaf peepin’,” but my guess is when the leaf-heads realize its easier to look down at the shrooms than up at the leaves (what a hassle!) shroom peepin’ will become the tradition. It’s just a guess.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Schools, St. George and West Bath second graders agree, are important

St. George second graders visit West Bath School as part of their Fall Expedition

by Trinity Delaney and Addison Beal

Second graders in Ms. Babb’s class at the St. George School are in the middle of a learning expedition about schools and community. Students are researching schools in communities around the world—from West Bath, Maine to Port-au-Prince, Haiti—and working hard to understand why schools are important.

The last week in October the St. George second graders traveled to West Bath to spend the day with the second graders at West Bath School. St. George students were each paired with a student from West Bath and spent the day shadowing their buddies. They conducted interviews with their West Bath buddies and learned about why school is important to them!

All the students agreed that schools are important. Iris says, “School is important because you get to learn at school.” Koby said, “You wouldn’t learn without school.”

The students noticed that the West Bath School is different. It’s smaller than ours and it’s only K-5, so there are no big kids. Everyone had lunch together. They have a library that was connected to the school but in a separate section of the building. Most of the second graders loved the playground and recess. They said the West Bath playground had bouncy equipment that was fun to play on. Liam liked attending their CREW meetings because he got to socialize. They all loved meeting their buddies.

On October 29, the West Bath buddies returned the visit and spent the day at the St. George School. Everyone had a great time and now the St. George second graders can think about their new friends learning in their school in their own town and they can think about our second graders learning here.

(Delaney and Beal are 6th grade students at the St. George School. Ms. Babb also contributed to this story.)

PHOTO: Alison Babb-Brott

Working to keep the heritage of farming alive in St. George

Dyan Reddick tending to her Saanen goats

Dyan Reddick tending to her Saanen goats

Dyan Redick’s favorite times of day are very early morning and twilight—the times when she milks her small herd of purebred Saanen goats, a Swiss breed.

“I love milking!” the 58-year-old owner/farmer of Bittersweet Heritage Farm says. “I love beginning the day with these animals and in the evening, milking is my chance to decompress from the day’s work.”

Redick’s farm is on Route 131 in Martinsville, about a mile from Port Clyde. While the house and attached garage don’t have the classic look of a farm, the property encompasses 20 acres of land that Redick says probably once belonged to a larger local holding. Tending to her goat herd, several sheep, a flock of chickens and some Royal Palm turkeys, not to mention processing the goat milk, producing cheeses, yarns and roving and then getting her products to market, make for days that are very full.

“I do this by myself,” Redick says, adding with a wry laugh, “but if you really thought about it, nobody would ever do all this.” What makes it worthwhile, she explains, “is the relationship with the animals. Every day is different with them.”

Having bottle-fed a number of her goats from birth, the bond is close on both sides. “Saanen goats are sometimes called ‘living marshmallows’ because of their calm disposition,” Redick notes. “And they are extremely intelligent.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARedick often describes herself as “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” The purpose, that of doing what she can to keep the heritage of farming alive on the St. George peninsula, grew out of the accident of becoming intrigued by goats after she moved to St. George in 2009.

“I had no intention of doing this, although I had arrived here planning on getting some sheep so I could avoid the expense of mowing.” But then, during an Open Farm Day, she wandered into a goat barn at Sea Breeze Farm in Friendship and she was hooked.

“I was so taken by the entire presence of the animals, of the farm buildings and of the herdsman, Brian Robinson. I began visiting the farm each week to buy milk and started experimenting with making cheese. Eventually I decided that I was ready to have my own goats. I started with two and now have seven. I am breeding four this season, so the herd will expand. It has happened incrementally, which has been good.”

She obtained her Maine State dairy certification in 2010. Now into her second year of farming full time, the enterprise is already self-sustaining. “It began to sink in that if I really want to farm for a living I have to intend to make it work as a business,” she notes. “This is not just a petting zoo.”

Redick’s cheeses range from dry-crumble feta to slightly aged varieties and creamy spreads. “There are variations with each batch, but my customers seem to enjoy that.”

In addition to selling her cheeses at the Camden and Thomaston Farmers’ Markets, five retail outlets also carry them, including Harborside Market in St. George. She also maintains a small farmstand at her farm where goats’ milk, cheeses, wool, and even notecards showing images of life at Bittersweet are available. In addition, there is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) component to her offerings in which, for a fixed price paid up-front, customers receive weekly allotments of eggs or cheese or both over the course of the summer.

Her newest venture, Tout Sweet Caramels, is just getting off the ground. “I have a lot of milk—Saanen goats are great producers. So I’ve been working with a candymaker in Freeport to develop this new way to use it.”

Redick derives clear satisfaction from the way Bittersweet Heritage Farm has developed over the five years she has lived in St. George. “This is really me,” she says with feeling. “To me this is not just a business. Farming keeps me grounded.”­—JW

For more information about Redick’s farm go to

Prestigious award recognizes Kyle Murdock’s socially-minded brainchild

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2010, when Kyle Murdock dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to start a lobster and seafood processing business in St. George, he had a simple aim—to improve the economic well-being of this area’s local fishing communities.

Having been raised on Monhegan in an extended family of lobstermen by parents with strong entrepreneurial instincts, Murdock was intimately acquainted with the challenges of making a living in the seafood industry, especially following the 2008 seafood price crash. With most processing plants located in Canada, the need to reduce transportation costs by processing lobster locally presented an opportunity that Murdock thought he could seize. The result is Sea Hag Seafood, now located at the site of the old Great Eastern Mussel Company off of Long Cove Road.

Buying and processing lobsters from local wharfs for major brokers and wholesale customers, Sea Hag, only a year in operation, employs a workforce of 50 and has just recently opened its commercial wharf to include direct purchases from local lobstermen.

The story of how Murdock, now age 24, developed a viable business plan and managed to gain both public and private financing for this venture is impressive for a man of his age. It is not surprising, then, that he recently was awarded a 2013 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Award by the Hitachi Foundation, which comes with a $40,000 grant plus access to the foundation’s network of business and other advisors. What is surprising, however, is that this award is not just for outstanding entrepreneurial achievements by people under the age of 30. As the foundation explains on its website, “The Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program recognizes leaders operating viable businesses that fill needs in the market while creating social value and tangible opportunities for low-wealth Americans.”

Not only is Sea Hag creating more security for the local lobster industry, but it is providing badly needed employment in a town where unemployment stands at 8 percent and an estimated 17.4 percent live below the poverty line. According to Murdock, a Sea Hag processor can earn more than $16,000 over the course of a full season, which is more than double the poverty rate in this area. The Hitachi Foundation also recognized that Murdock and his managerial team have taken things a step further.

“We’ve been focusing on employing people from disadvantaged labor markets—low-income people, but also convicted felons,” Murdock says, noting that he has a personal interest in helping the latter group, which he says faces enormous obstacles when it comes to earning a living after incarceration. “An unemployed ex-convict is 3.8 times more likely to be re-incarcerated than an employed one.”

Many of Sea Hag’s employees are prisoners participating in the work-release program operated by the correctional facility in Warren. Once released, Murdock and Sea Hag colleagues like James Mrazek do their best to provide these individuals with transitional support such as helping them find places to live, even to the extent of driving them to appointments with landlords outside of work hours.

Murdock says that without the dedication of his “fantastic team of managers and production supervisors,” it would be difficult to provide the kind of mentoring and support that many of Sea Hag’s employees need to be successful. “We do it because we think it is the right thing to do,” he says. “We judge people here on the quality of their work and on their work ethic—and on nothing else.”

Looking ahead, Murdock is projecting annual revenues of $25 million. “The seafood industry at any level is very low margin,” he notes. “So you just have to be very, very careful.” As for returning to college, Murdock says that right now he isn’t planning on it. But he notes that his success with Sea Hag so far has at least a little to do with his brief time at Worcester Polytechnic. “I took a class in corporate accounting—it was the one class in college that has been useful for what I’m doing now.”—JW

The land conservation legacy of Robert Rheault

PHOTO: Courtesy of Georges River Land Trust

PHOTO: Courtesy of Georges River Land Trust

Col. Robert Bradley “Bob” Rheault died peacefully at his home in Owls Head on Oct. 16 at the age of 87.  Robert Rheault was a retired commander of Special Forces in Vietnam and served his country for nearly three decades before returning to Maine. There are many stories than can be told about the many contributions Bob Rheault made to our midcoast community, but maybe his greatest legacy to our community is in land conservation.

Bob moved to the midcoast in the early 1970s. He hiked, biked and led courses on the water in small boats with the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School. He got to know first hand the woods and waters of this part of Maine and recognized the landscape as part of what Theodore Roosevelt called our “most glorious heritage.”

In 1987 Bob joined a small band of citizens concerned about development pressures and dedicated to land conservation. They were organizing the Georges River Land Trust (GRLT). In Bob’s words: “We had no by-laws, no staff, no money, no office, no phone and no protected land, but we had a clear vision of doing our part to protect this heritage of woods, farmland, wildlife, water quality and scenic beauty.”

Bob worked in a team setting using his leadership skills to build the organizational structure that a group needs to be effective. He helped organize walks, canoe trips and informational meetings to spread the word of this new group’s mission. The University of Maine Cooperative Extension provided a temporary office during the late 1980s, but they still had no protected land. Bob and his wife Susan St. John decided they needed to lead by example. They purchased waterfront property in Owls Head overlooking the Muscle Ridge islands. They placed a conservation easement on the property thereby protecting a beautiful stretch of mature spruce and shore land. This became the first conservation easement held by the Georges River Land Trust.

Bob recognized that land conservation was one of the most important investments of time and energy that he could make to help insure the vitality of the community. He was most effective in talking with landowners about conservation because of his dedication to the cause and his experience of protecting his own land. Bob served on the Land Protection committee of the Land Trust for 25 years and in 2012 was honored by GRLT for his years of leadership and service.

Today GRLT is a thriving organization, which conserves about 3,000 acres including 39 easements and 15 preserves.  It also oversees a network of more than 40 miles of footpaths known as the Georges River Highland Path.

Next time you take a hike on the Georges River Highland path or drive past a welcoming sign that this land is protected by the GRLT think of Bob Rheault and know that he had a hand in conserving these landscapes.

—Leslie C. Hyde, St George

Cutting back no-no’s

lavender dragon SMLast issue I wrote about cutting back gardens in the fall, which got me to thinking about plants that inexperienced gardeners often cut back but shouldn’t. This is the category of plants we tend to call perennials, but that are really “subshrubs.”

Subshrubs have woody stems, but soft, herbaceous growing tips. Lavender, sage, Russian sage, and hyssop are common subshrubs we have growing around here. Heather also.

These subshrubs should not be cut back as we enter cold weather. Rather, they should be left as they are, and then cut back in the spring, after new growth starts. I’ve managed to get away with cutting and trimming back Russian sage in the fall, but never lavender. Ever. Cutting it back to the ground just doesn’t work.

I have some Munstead lavender plants that have been going for at least 15 years. The trick to keeping them going and compact—or at least, my trick—is that they are, first, in a well-drained, somewhat gritty and dry location. Second, I don’t cut them back in the fall at all, but I do cut them back by about a third once I see new leaves starting up in the spring. And third, I cut them back if they need it (and they usually do if I haven’t been vigilant in tending them according to this schedule) right after they have bloomed in the summer.

I also have some hyssop plants that I rescued from a garden where they had become badly out of shape and leggy. They just hadn’t been tended in a while. I dug them up in the spring after they had started leafing out, and cut them back by a third and planted them in my garden. They were still straggly, awkward things. I let them be until they had a full flush of new growth. Then I cut them back again. The next year I did the same thing and felt free to cut out some woody, straggly stems. And now, I have lovely compact hyssop that will stay that way as long as I pay attention to proper pruning. I did the same thing with my old sage plants this year, cutting them back several times during the summer to get them a bit tighter and full of lovely savory leaves.
— Anne Cox (Cox is co-owner of Hedgerow in Martinsville.)

Indian Pudding

When it’s cold outside and I feel a cold coming on, I find this dessert very comforting.  A traditional old-fashioned New England recipe using staple items from the pantry and lots of milk, it’s easy to make anytime. —BTW

2 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 cups cold milk
1/2 cup raisins, optional
1 cup cold milk

Preheat the oven to 300°. Butter a 3-quart pudding dish or deep casserole.

Scald the 2 cups milk in top of double boiler. Add corn meal, wet with cold water. Cook until thickened (to the consistency of thick polenta), stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm.

Add the egg, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, ginger, raisins and 2 cups milk, mixing well. Turn into buttered dish. Bake for about 2 hours. Pour 1 cup milk over the pudding and bake for 1 hour longer. Serve warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Launching the new library

054Jackson Memorial Library held its grand opening launch on October 19. Following the launch theme, activities for children included launching boats, stomp rockets and paper airplanes. Children of all ages were enthralled by the trebuchet (catapult) built by the afterschool program, which successfully launched pumpkins over 300 feet down the meadow.
Although the day was chilly, the crowd was warmed up with chili, chowder and hotdogs.

PHOTOS: Larry Murphy

PHOTOS: Larry Murphy