BANGOR, Maine —- The Orono Bog Boardwalk is showing its age.
Wood-decaying fungi, carpenter ants and heavy use have made it necessary to replace the entire 4,200-foot boardwalk over the next two to three years, Jim Bird, a spokesman for the group of volunteers that maintains the walk, said Tuesday morning as the walk opened to the public for the season.
Bird estimated it will cost $1.06 million to replace the wooden walk with composite wood, which would last about 30 years. That wood product would be attached to a self-leveling aluminum platform rather than the wood and foam the walk now rests upon.
The boardwalk opened on June 3, 2003. It cost $175,000 to construct from wood, according to previously published reports.
To get the fundraising campaign to replace the boardwalk off the ground, an anonymous donor has offered a $25,000 challenge grant to the effort. To receive the money, volunteers must raise a matching $25,000 by June 20, Bird said.
Money raised by the friends organization, by an annual yard sale and by the sale of merchandise such as hats, mugs, T-shirts and calendars, goes toward operating expenses, not capital improvements, he said.
Grace Ferguson, wife of University of Maine President Paul Ferguson, opened the gate Tuesday and led a group of volunteers on the first walk of 2012. A native of Southern California, she compared visiting the bog to her frequent trips to Disneyland as a child.
“Growing up, we went to Disneyland about four times a year,” she said. “Every time I left, I felt like I hadn’t seen everything. I feel that way about the bog walk because it’s always changing.”
Al Larson, 70, of Orono took the first volunteer shift of the boardwalk’s 2012 season. A forestry major who worked for Georgia Pacific before retiring a few years ago, he said the boardwalk offers the public a unique opportunity to visit a bog.
“People can come and see it and not get their feet wet,” he said Tuesday. “Thirty thousand people a year come out to enjoy it — from babies in strollers to old people in wheelchairs. I just love to watch [the bog] progress through the seasons.”
The Orono Bog Boardwalk can be accessed from the Rolland H. Perry Forest in Bangor, where it winds its way through forested wetland and out onto a broad, open peat bog located in Orono.
As each season unfolds in the rare habitat, visitors can see many plant and animal species, including orchids, carnivorous plants and migratory birds. The wheelchair-accessible boardwalk features seven interpretive stations along its route, as well as numerous benches where visitors may rest and contemplate their surroundings.
It is free of charge and open from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. seven days a week during spring and summer, with hours adjusting for day-length changes in autumn. It is scheduled to close Nov. 29.
The boardwalk is jointly managed by the Orono Land Trust, the city of Bangor and the University of Maine. Its operation and maintenance are funded entirely through donations and sales of merchandise.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Jim Bird estimated it will cost $1.6 million to replace the wooden walk with composite wood that would last about 30 years. Bird said it will cost $1.06 million.