A journey along the coast begins

Posted July 15, 2011, at 8:53 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Sedgwick native Levi Bridges, known to BDN readers through his dispatches filed while traversing Russia by bicycle in 2009, is paddling as much of the Maine Island Trail as he can this summer. This is his initial report. Others will follow.

DEER ISLE, Maine — On a clear summer afternoon, I landed my kayak on a glimmering beach of white shells on the edge of Little Sheep Island and prepared to make camp. This was the first day of my summer paddle along the Maine coast and my initial stopping point on the beginning leg of my journey, which would bring me around Deer Isle.

The high sun beat down on the picturesque islet before me. I scrambled up the large mass or rock ringing Little Sheep and arrived in a field of high grasses and wildflowers swaying in the breeze. Just across the water lay Stinson Neck, a long peninsula jutting out into the sea off eastern Deer Isle.

Only a few trees rose from the island. I wandered the perimeter of Little Sheep’s rocky coast, so as not to disturb the island’s fragile vegetation, in search of the Maine Island Trail logbook. It didn’t take me long to find it, stored in a Tupperware container tied to the branch of an old spruce.

The Maine Island Trail, administered by the Maine Island Trail Association, consists of a 375-mile system of mainland and island campsites that follow the Maine coast from the New Hampshire border to Machias Bay. MITA members pay a small annual fee that gives them access to 180 campsites on Maine’s coast. They all contain logbooks where visitors can sign in and write about their experiences.

Many islands on the trail, such as Little Sheep, are state owned, while many others are privately owned by individuals who generously have offered to share their islands with other people interested in environmentally friendly, low-impact travel along Maine’s coast. Local stewards maintain MITA campsites, ensuring that the public can enjoy Maine’s enchanting coastline while conserving its natural character.

MITA asks that island visitors follow Leave No Trace guidelines while visiting coastal environments. Practices such as camping only on durable surfaces or designated spots, not veering off island trails or walking on soft earth to protect plant life and soils, cleaning up garbage and, in all cases, leaving the islands exactly as you found them, help ensure that the natural character of the Maine coast will be preserved for years to come.

I’ll never forget the first time I discovered the Maine Island Trail. During a chance visit to a small island off Naskeag Point in Brooklin years ago, I stumbled upon one of the Tupperware containers tied to a tree. Discovering this hidden booklet in the woods had all the appeal of a childhood treasure hunt. Inside I found a logbook with notes that other seafarers had written, as well as a pamphlet on low-impact procedures. I read it and not only gained a new understanding of how delicate island environments are, but also developed a keen interest in wanting to do my part to protect them.

From that moment on, I became hooked on Maine islands — not just exploring them, but also taking part in MITA’s practice of discovering an unspoiled world while at the same time preserving it for future generations.

As late afternoon faded, I pitched my tent by the spruce tree as my MITA guidebook instructed. I sat alone by the shore, staring at the magnificent coastal scene of distant isles before me and felt completely at peace with myself and the world.

As the sun set, two kayakers, a young man and woman, came around the edge of Little Sheep and landed on the opposite side of the island. From my tent, I watched them stomp right through the field, trudging over the grasses. I resisted the urge to go over and lecture them about proper island stewardship practices as they pitched a tent right in the center of the field. But I knew that the small book tied to the tree could entice them to think about the influence of their presence here more than any admonishment that I could utter.

At dawn the next morning, I left to continue my paddle around Deer Isle, picking up everything that I had brought in, as well as some trash that I gathered on the beach. I stared back at the tent perched in the middle of the island as I paddled back out to sea.

I could only hope that the young couple would discover the magic book on the tree before they left.

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