Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

TBT: Fishing the Serpentine

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t…

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Serpentine Stream 2013. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans, Central Maine Newspapers

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t, and I wasn’t even a very good fisherman for a long time. I don’t think I caught my first fish until I was at least 13 years old, and when I finally caught a fish it was a yellow perch using a worm and red-n-white bobber.

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An old Polaroid Instant photo of Zack, Mom and Becky posing under the big pine tree with a nice bass that Zack caught at the camp lot . circa 1991. (c) S. Warren

My parents had a camp lot (no camp) on Serpentine Stream in Smithfield, Maine. Each summer we’d camp, fish and cook by the campfire. Back then (and probably still now) we didn’t swim in the stream because the bottom was too slimy, and there were sticks and clams to contend with, so fishing was pretty much the only thing to do to keep a kid busy. The stream was pretty full of algae and the catch consisted of bass, pickerel, sunfish, and yellow and white perch. Occasionally we’d see a water snake or a turtle, both which waned any urge to try to to swim in the stream no matter how hot it seemed. The stream now also has crappy thanks to the illegal dumping of the non-native fish, which at one point almost wiped out the white perch.

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My daughter fishing at the camp lot..concentrating on the reeling. circa 1989 (c) S. Warren

I never seemed to be able to catch anything except the tall pine’s bough that hung out over the water and still grows where I stood to cast. All of my siblings fished and caught fish pretty darned near every time they threw in the line. I would spend hours watching my bobber dance on the water, but never could set the hook to pull in a fish. Good thing I wasn’t a reader or I probably never would have picked up a fishing pole again, but since I enjoy doing things over sitting still, I continued to try.

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Author and oldest son Zack fishing with her silver Shakespeare that she still owns and fishes with on Serpentine Stream, Smithfield, ME. Circa 1989. (c) S. Warren

Once  John and I had kids of our own, we took the kids to the camp lot on Serpentine Stream to fish for the first of many times. My parents spent weekends at the camp lot so it became a Sunday tradition to pack up the kids, meet my parents at camp, and have Sunday breakfast over the campfire. It is here that I taught my kids how to fish.

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Youngest son with Dad catching his first small mouth bass on Serpentine Stream. (c) S. Warren

The camp lot and stream has been the place where most of the kids in our families learned to fish. Throughout the years, we’d bring the kids to fish after work. It’s still a great place for a kid to catch a fish, especially in the spring when the white perch are running and for bass fishing in the summer. My brother built a camp further down on Serpentine and his two boys are avid fisherman. In one afternoon, they caught “between 12 – 15 fish that were over 3 lbs”! Fishing runs deep in the family. My other nephew, Chris, even ice fished on the Serpentine this winter!

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Nephew Brady caught this 5 lb. 5 oz.  largemouth bass on Serpentine Stream in 2015. photo credit: Brady’s Dad (c) B. Shields

 

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My nephew Chris with a black crappy from the Serpentine. “He caught pickerel, crappy, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch! Lots of fish! Mom navigated, but says she needs to get in on the action next time!” photo credit: W. Shields

A lot has changed over the years. Serpentine Stream is now called Serpentine waterway (not by me); East Pond is sometimes referred to as East Lake (not by me) by those trying to market it to campers from away, and there’s now an Ice Cream Place in the town village that draws customers in boats down the stream from East Pond.

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photo credit: Ice Cream Place Smithfield ME

According to an article in the local newspaper, “speeding boats have wiped out the algae”and “speeding boaters and jet skiers along the Serpentine waterway also were unwittingly threatening a comeback of the Sandhill crane, a species that recently returned to Maine after being pushed to the brink of extinction. A speed buoy was installed at both ends of the Serpentine waterway to help control boat traffic.” I wouldn’t want to endanger the Sandhill crane, but I didn’t think killing some algae was necessarily a bad thing since the last time we tried to use the boat launch at the camp lot to take our boat out, the entire trailer was blanketed in algae plants, and it us forever to get all of it off. In the age of Eurasian Watermilfoil threats and not knowing if we had it on our boat, we haven’t used the launch since, but instead use the public launch on the other end of East Pond.

bobberSo April 1st kicks off the official open water season. If you don’t have a little slice of heaven on the Serpentine, try to find one, or plan a canoe trip down the Serpentine. Then buy a license and don’t forget to take a kid fishing! Maine will also offer a free weekend of fishing for adults on June 4-5, 2016 and if you still don’t have a place to take a kid fishing, the State of Maine offers many spots around Maine that with exclusive kid friendly – kid only fishing. No matter what you do be sure to get out there!

I’m thankful for the camp lot to still be in our family, and I can’t wait to take my grand kids there when they learn to fish. In the meantime, after seeing  my nephew Brady’s large mouth bass, I’m planning on making a trip down the Serpentine to see if I can catch what he’s been catching!