The sight of lobster traps is common along the coast of Maine, where the wire frames can be stacked along piers, driveways and on the backs of boats and trucks.
But this time of year, when Christmas lights and other decorations appear on houses and in yards, the stacks sometimes take a different shape.
In Beals, just across Moosabec Reach from Jonesport, the stack this year is 60 feet tall, decorated and topped with buoys arranged in the form of a cross. In Rockland, it is 30 feet tall and topped with an illuminated lobster.
These are two Maine municipalities that, like countless other places across the country, erect large Christmas trees in public gathering spots to give area residents a place to come together to celebrate the holiday. Only instead of using actual trees, they use decorated traps arranged in the familiar conical shape to put a Maine-centric twist on the tradition.
Other Maine towns have similar displays. Lobster crates (not traps) are stacked into a large cone and decorated each December at Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, next to the Mount Desert Island causeway, while in York a similar stack is erected and decorated each year at Cape Neddick.
But it was the display in Rockland, which has been erected every year since 2003, that was on the minds of people in Jonesport and Beals last year when they decided to get into the act. They had heard that a television production crew was traveling Rockland to film a segment on the tree and decided they could build one higher.
“We thought ‘we can compete with this,’” local resident Sue Mills said Thursday.
According to Mills, for several years Jonesport and Beals have held annual Christmas flotillas consisting of decorated boats that traverse the reach the weekend after Thanksgiving. Erecting a lobster trap tree would help round out the local festivities, which also include a visit by Santa at the local firehouse, a bonfire, Christmas carols and fireworks.
So they gathered 769 traps — “all extremely used,” Mills said — and erected a cone 52 feet high. This year, they have built a “tree” eight feet taller with 1,364 traps, nearly twice as many as the number they used in 2010. It took roughly a week to build, she said, and was officially lit the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The tower this year is dedicated to Jacob Beal, a Washington County fisherman who died in a recreational boating accident in Schoodic Lake this past fall, according to Mills. A cross at the top of the tree is made from buoys that Beal used to fish with, she said.
“Last year, it took on a life of its own,” Mills said of the the towns’ inaugural effort. “This year we had to put out an extra request for traps because we used so many.”
Though the Beals tree is taller than its counterpart in Rockland, residents in the Knox County area do not concede that it is better, according to the head of the Rockland organization that leads that effort.
Lorain Francis, executive director of Rockland Main Street Inc., said Saturday that the Rockland tree consists of only 152 traps. Unlike the Beals tree, its design is engineered so that it does not need to be tethered to the ground, she said. So it could be argued, she added, that Rockland’s creation is Maine’s tallest free-standing lobster-trap tree.
“It gets all the weather extremes. We don’t have to tie it off,” Francis said. “We have a special engineering plan. It is a trade secret.”
The traps in Rockland’s 30-foot-tall tree are made especially for the structure by Brooks Trap Mills in Thomaston with green netting and red escape vents, she said. To help raise funds for its programs, the nonprofit group sells $50 raffle tickets that area fishermen can buy for a chance to win 100 of the traps.
The television segment filmed last year has yet to be broadcast but it is scheduled to be aired this weekend, according to Francis. She said the program, “Extreme Christmas Trees,” will be shown on The Learning Channel at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10.
Francis said that it is good that the towns each get recognized for their separate tree-shaped trap stacks. It helps to foster a sense of community in the towns, she said, and draws positive attention to the towns from out of state.
“We have a friendly little competition going that we love,” Francis said. “It is good for Maine.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter (@billtrotter) on Twitter.