Digging through old boards piled near the restrooms of the Bangor City Forest, Jessica Wade of Milford has gotten a few odd looks over the years. As people watch her pick through rotting wood destined for the dump, scraping off bits of lichen and moss, they become understandably curious.
“I realize, without knowing the context, it looks a little sketchy,” Wade wrote in a recent email interview.
Sometimes, people will approach Wade to ask her what she’s doing. And when she tells them, she always gets a positive response.
The boards, you see, are decking from the original Orono Bog Boardwalk, built in 2002 out of hemlock wood. In recent years, the wooden decking of the boardwalk has been replaced, bit by bit, by more durable composite material. The old sections — which were rotting in the soggy environment and breaking under the pressure of thousands of visitors — have been carted out of the woods and discarded. But not before Wade gets to them.
Over the past three years, Wade has gathered bits of wood and plant material from the old decking to make jewelry. She calls it “Bog Bling.”
The jewelry, she explained, is a way to commemorate the original boardwalk while also supporting its reconstruction. At least 50 percent of the money she receives from the sale of Bog Bling goes to the ongoing Orono Bog Boardwalk Reconstruction Campaign, which has so far has raised approximately $800,000 of the estimated $1 million needed to rebuild the entire mile-long boardwalk out of durable sections of composite decking, stainless steel posts and aluminum siding. The remaining 50 percent of sales goes to Wade so she can restock on resin, glue and jewelry findings.
“I personally am an art and nature lover and reconcile these things creating jewelry,” Wade said. “It gives people an affordable way to have a unique piece of jewelry and carry some nature with them. Adding the Orono Bog Boardwalk into the mix made perfect sense to me.”
An IT technician at Fogler Library in Orono, Wade came up with the idea to create Bog Bling about three years ago while working at the library with Jim Bird, director of the Orono Bog Boardwalk since 2008.
“I remember talking with him about it one day and asking what they were going to do with all the old sections,” Wade said. “He told me they were going to throw them away. I told him two things: He was missing out on a fundraising opportunity, and it would be a shame if the original boardwalk just disappeared forever since it has an interesting history.”
So she asked permission to pick through the removed sections of boardwalk, collect some of the material and try transforming it into jewelry.
“The name Bog Bling started out a joke while we were trying to figure out what to call it,” she said. “Orono Bog Boardwalk Jewelry was a long phrase and just sounded really boring. Jim wasn’t completely sold on the name at first, but the more I used it, the more it grew on him.”
To create a Bog Bling pendant, Wade carves tiny pieces of the boards, then sifts through the interesting natural materials she’s collected from the boards for visually interesting combinations.
“When you look closely at the boards you discover there are tons of interesting mosses and lichens that have grown on them over the years,” Wade said. “Much of that grew on the bottom or in between the boards so most people never got a chance to see it.”
Arranging the plant material and wood into pleasing arrangements, she then preserves and freezes them in place with clear epoxy resin poured into moulds. And when the resin hardens, she glues the proper jewelry findings (metal components) into place.
She keeps the design simple so that the boardwalk material remains the focal point and the jewelry is inexpensive. The smaller pieces are priced at $10, and the larger ones at $15.
“The response so far has been great,” she said. “I’ve seen people wearing Bog Bling in a bunch of different parts of Maine. It makes me happy that people are able to get a little something extra they can enjoy in exchange for their support.”
Taking into consideration that not everyone wears jewelry, Wade has also created pins in a similar fashion, and at some point, she’d like to try making bookmarks utilizing some of the old boardwalk materials.
The jewelry is only sold at the Orono Bog Boardwalk, which is located in the Bangor City Forest (also known as the Rolland F. Perry City Forest), off the East-West Trail, approximately 0.25 mile from the parking lot at the end of Tripp Drive in Bangor. At the beginning of the boardwalk is a maintenance cabin and visitors center, where visitors can purchase Bog Bling and other souvenirs, such as T-shirts, books and hats, in support of the boardwalk. This small cabin is usually open, manned by a volunteer docent, when the boardwalk is open, which is 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. opening day through Labor Day; 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for the rest of September; and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 1 through 15, when the boardwalk typically closes for the season.
Currently, Bog Bling is the boardwalk’s top selling souvenir, Bird said.
“Everyone who looks at it loves it,” he said. “And we love it as well.”