When Tom Gorrill and his wife Barbara moved to Martinsville from Gray in September of 2015, aside from addressing needed renovations to their new-to-them mid-19th-century home, high on Gorrill’s agenda was finding a way to make a hands-on contribution to local conservation efforts. As vice-president of the Maine Appalachian Trail (AT) Club, he was naturally drawn to volunteer opportunities involving trail maintenance and development.
“When I first got here, I began looking around for local volunteer opportunities. I’m still involved very much with the AT, but that work has become more administrative now that we’ve moved further away.” For quite a few years, Gorrill notes by way of explanation, he had been Overseer of the Baldpate District of the Maine AT, with 31 maintainers working with him to keep that portion of the AT clear, groomed and in good repair. “So when we moved here I wanted to get back to being more involved with trails, to get out in the field.”
He checked out some midcoast conservation groups’ websites looking for ways to get involved. “Coastal Mountains Land Trust has a nice website. I hit the “Volunteer” button and they got in touch with me within a day.”
In short order he was going to Camden every Wednesday to join what he calls “an old-guy group” that went out and did maintenance. “And that was fun. But what I didn’t know about, and gradually got to know about as I was here longer and began attending Conservation Commission meetings, were the trails in St. George.”
About a year ago, in line with the Commission’s informal way of welcoming volunteers and sharing responsibilities, Gorrill began coordinating with Ingrid Mroz, who up until then had been overseeing the Commission’s responsibility to “enhance public access” to town conservation lands “through the establishment and management of trails, kiosks and parking areas,” as it states on the town’s website. “Ingrid shifted over to helping me on the trails and I help her with her new focus, which is invasives,” Gorrill explains.
So now Gorrill no longer needs to make the weekly 50-mile round trip to Camden to satisfy his desire to do trail work. “These trails are local. It’s wonderful to have this system here. I can go out and walk my dogs, but I can also contribute locally and to me that’s important. I don’t want to have to drive an hour to get an opportunity. I don’t want to have to leave the peninsula.”
Gorrill hopes other St. George residents will discover how easy it is to support this particular part of the Conservation Commission’s work.
“The Commision has always done a trail clean-up day, or a spring trail-maintenance day. And unofficially some people from the Commission have sort of looked after a trail, but the trail network has been expanding. We’ve now got High Island, which Les Hyde and the Commission worked with Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) to acquire, and there’s the Bamford property, which is a 35-acre tract down off Long Cove where the MCHT has just finished putting in a trail to the water. And then there’s the Meadow Brook preserve off Turkey Cove Road. That was purchased by the MCHT but turned over to the town so the town has all the maintenance responsibilities. There’s no trail there yet, so we will build it with the MCHT, but then we will have to maintain it. So the network is expanding, which is great—to preserve these areas and give everyone the opportunity to get out into these places to enjoy them, but we’re going to need more volunteers to help with the maintenance as that happens.”
There’s a wide range of volunteer opportunities, Gorrill says, starting with simply monitoring a particular trail every week or two to see if there are any maintenance needs to report such as blowdowns, a drainage issue or a need for clipping. “All that person has to do is call or email me the information and we’ll line up some trail maintainers to take care of the problem.” The biggest need in the summer, Gorrill says, is for clipping. “It’s amazing how quickly a trail can disappear. You want to keep the trail three feet wide, but stuff grows in the summer so if someone wants to get out and clip that’s very definitely a summer volunteer opportunity.”
Another way to help is to add your name to a list of volunteer maintainers who will be notified of work-day opportunities to help with trail construction or larger maintenance issues such as bog bridging replacement, setting stepping stones or installing waterbars. These are mostly seasonal activities.
Building the trail at the Meadow Brook preserve is a special case, where the fun is in creating a trail that users will find interesting. Here the new trail will likely be more of a wetlands nature walk similar to the St. George school’s nature trail. “In building a new trail you try to go by certain features so people can learn about them. And there are always some areas you can’t avoid, so bridging or stepping stones have to be put in. And obviously you have to clear the trail with the aim of making it accessible for all ages.”
The big thing to realize, Gorrill says, is that people don’t need many skills other than a willingness to go out and work and learn. “I’ve always found it’s a great time out there working with people. You can learn on the job so you don’t really need any particular skills. And you don’t need special equipment, either.”
Gorrill acknowledges that, despite its expanding nature, the trail system in St. George is very small-scale in comparison with the AT. But what Gorrill says he appreciates about St. George’s trails is the “variety of experiences for a variety of abilities” the system offers.
“So for a guy like me who tends to like a longer trail, the Jones Brook Trail is great—you can go from the Town Forest Trail off Kinney Woods Road right over to Route 131. It’s about 2.5 to 3 miles, so you can really get a good hiking experience in. And from Route 131 it links up with the Fort Point Trail, which is a short trail that doesn’t take very long and you’re rewarded with a great view.”
Dogs are welcome on the trails, but should be leashed, more as a precaution against encounters with other dogs than anything else. And the trails are accessible much of the year, including winter (another option for volunteer work is painting trail blazes to mark the trails for all-season visibility). Hikers should avoid damaging muddy trails in the spring, respect the limitations hunting season brings and take common-sense precautions against ticks.
For more information on volunteer opportunities related to maintaining and developing the town’s trails contact Tom Gorrill at 372-8806 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.—JW
PHOTOS: Top, Maine AT Club, below, Betsy Welch