DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It has taken several years, but a Dover-Foxcroft couple have found the right partner to carry on their legacy of educating people about the Maine forest.
Stephen Law, 82, and his wife, Elaine, 79, made it official Tuesday by deeding about 115 acres of land on Routes 6 and 16 — including the forestry education program they started in 2004 — to the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District in Dover-Foxcroft, which has a working relationship with the Maine For-est Service.
“The mission of the PCSWCD is to provide natural resource education, including agriculture and forestry, to the public in Piscataquis County,” Law said Tuesday. “The Forest Service is required by law to practice multiple-use management of our natural resources. To us, that’s a perfect match and it’s very important to reach people before they are committed to a single natural resource through vocation or avocation.”
Law, who spent his career as a civil engineer with the U.S. Forest Service, has always had a passion for the forest. He was troubled by the conflict between landowners and forest users because of changing management techniques and greater public interest, he said. From that conflict he saw a need to teach children early about the working forest, land ownership, stewardship, forest management and sustainability.
“They need to know that a forest is a renewable resource if properly nurtured,” he said.
With time on their hands and plenty of land, Law and his wife hatched the Kids and Trees Growing Together program, which first involved elementary pupils in SAD 4 (Guilford), SAD 41 (Milo) and SAD 46 (Dexter). Because of the economy and high transportation costs, some of the schools have since opted out of the pro-gram.
Under the program, children planted about 2,000 Christmas trees on the couple’s property. The plan was for the children to care for the trees over the years. When they became high school seniors, they would harvest the trees to raise funds for their school’s Project Graduation, Law said. Their involvement over the years not only allowed pupils to watch the trees grow, but also educated them on every aspect of the growth stage and taught them that a forest is a renewable resource if properly nurtured.
During field trips to the demonstration forest, Law showed the pupils the nursery, took them on walks through an existing forest and shared his knowledge about forest wildlife.
In between the children’s visits, the Laws and local volunteers cared for the trees.
As the couple aged, both worried about the program’s future. To sustain it, they offered the land free of charge to an organization or person who would continue to educate children and the public about the forest.
More than 150 people or organizations responded to the offer, but most were more interested in obtaining the land than continuing the Kids and Trees Growing Together program, according to Law.
Law did his best to interest regional organizations in carrying on the program. Foxcroft Academy and the Natural Resources Education Center considered taking it over but in the end opted out. Law said he had earlier discussions with the University of Maine’s forestry program and with the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, but apparently neither party wanted to be responsible for the program.
The soil and water conservation district was also approached early on, but things just didn’t seem to fit right, according to Steve Hobart, chairman of the district supervisors. “But things look very promising now,” he said Tuesday.
That pleased the Laws. “We wanted to introduce the area’s children to a forest environment in an objective setting,” Law said. That’s what the soil and water conservation district will do, he said. “This meets all our of objectives.”
Since the property is much closer to local schools than the district’s demonstration forest in Williamsburg Plantation, Hobart believes more schools will become involved. Hobart, who hopes that the property will become a beehive of activity in the future, envisions the creation of wildlife and forestry trails that would complement the Kids and Trees Growing Together program. A management plan will be devised and local school officials will be asked to contribute to the plan, he said.
Gordon Moore, district forester for the Maine Forest Service and a soil and water conservation district supervisor, said Tuesday that he was looking forward to working on the project. The Maine Forest Service is very happy to be a part of the Law’s project, he said.
For that, Law is thankful that his legacy and that of his parents, the late Fred and Florence Law — who instilled his love of forestry — will continue in perpetuity.
“I am glad it’s finally over,” Law said of his search for a rightful heir. He said he and his wife retained their home on the property and plan to help with the project as health permits.