BANGOR, Maine — Regular visitors to the Rolland F. Perry City Forest don’t find out that winter’s set in by looking at a date on a calendar or noting when the first snow flies.
They know fall has been eclipsed when the sign goes up that reads: “Boardwalk closed for the season.”
Sunday the Orono Bog Boardwalk shut down for the season. Although the boardwalk closes on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Director Jim Bird said it was the first time he can remember shuttering the popular walk when many of its boards were dusted with snow.
“We have to cover all the interpretive stations, take down the open signs and replace them with closed signs,” Bird said after the sun had set and he had returned home to Orono. Bird and three other volunteers completed the work in about 2½ hours.
More than 30,000 people have taken a walk through the northern peat bog since it opened on May 1, he said.
The low and high point of 2010 on the boardwalk was the vandalism that occurred over Labor Day weekend. An unknown number of people gained access to the boardwalk by breaking the lock on the gate between the time the walk closed on Sunday, Sept. 5, and opened at 7 a.m. Monday, according to previously published reports.
“They basically ripped off 20 to 25 benches,” which are placed every 200 feet along the boardwalk, Bird told the Bangor Daily News on Labor Day. “They smashed about 20 deck boards with their boots.”
In addition, half of the interpretive signs containing information about the flora, fauna and animals of the bog were pulled off their supports and thrown into the bog.
They also broke into the cabin used for storage, ripping the door off its hinges and stealing at least one item from inside.
The boardwalk was forced to close for two days while $3,000 in repairs were made. Bangor Savings Bank paid for materials and volunteer laborers did the work, according to Bird.
“The response from the community was very gratifying, both in terms of monetary donations and offers of help with repairs,” Bird said earlier this month. “The 140 person-hours that it took to get the damage repaired and the facility ready for reopening showed that the boardwalk enjoys a very high level of community support.”
Bird said Sunday that the media attention surrounding the vandalism made more people aware of the boardwalk’s existence and helped with fundraising efforts.
“If there can be a positive in a situation like that, it turned out to be a positive,” he said.
No one has been charged in connection with the vandalism.
The boardwalk is jointly managed by the city of Bangor, the Orono Land Trust and the University of Maine. It is in the Bangor City Forest and on adjacent University of Maine property.
Each year, volunteer guides lead schoolchildren and other groups on tours that showcase the unusual habitat. In 2010, they led 24 separate groups that included more than 750 visitors.
The boardwalk, which is handicapped accessible, also serves as an outdoor classroom for several UMaine and University College of Bangor classes, Bird said. This year’s nature-walk series enlisted faculty and other experts to lead walks about birds, plants, flowers, trees, fungi, dragonflies and hydrology.
More than 100 people participated in these walks, a record number, Bird said.
In September, boardwalk volunteers were awarded a Certificate of Service Appreciation by the Maine Disabilities Education Association.
“This was the first award earned by volunteers, and it was with great pride that it was accepted,” Bird said earlier this month.
The Orono bog was designated a registered national landmark in 1974, and the Orono Bog Boardwalk opened in 2003. It was built with the help of about $175,000 in donations, including a $50,000 anonymous matching grant, and the work of dozens of volunteers.
In addition, the University of Maine Foundation is accepting donations for a $200,000 endowment fund to ensure the bog walk’s survival for future generations. So far, $150,000 has been raised, Bird said
Money earned from the sale of T-shirts and calendars also goes to support the bog walk.
For information, call Bird at 866-2578 or visit www.oronobogwalk.org.