August 14, 2018
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The Orono Bog Boardwalk: A Reflection and a Request

Community Author: Jim Bird
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BDN photo by Aislinn Sarnacki Ron Davis, founder of the Orono Bog Boardwalk, walks along the boardwalk he planned and built with more than 100 volunteers in 2002 and 2003 on May 14, 2013.

ORONO — On Oct. 14, 2017 the Orono Bog Boardwalk, an ADA wheelchair compliant facility, managed by the City of Bangor, University of Maine, and Orono Land Trust (OLT), closed for the season after its 15th year. The Boardwalk has become a popular outdoor recreational facility with an estimated 350,000 visitors having walked the 4,200-foot-long Boardwalk that loops through the Orono Bog since its opening in 2003. Visitors from 50 states and 40 countries are represented.

The Boardwalk begins in the Rolland F. Perry (Bangor) City Forest and crosses into the Fay Hyland Tract owned by the University of Maine in the Town of Orono. The OLT has held a conservation easement on the Hyland Tract since 2010. The vision and dedication of Professor (now Emeritus) Ronald Davis, University of Maine, made the Boardwalk a reality. The Boardwalk was built in eight months with hemlock lumber by about 150 volunteers, plus members of the Maine Conservation Corps, among other groups. Each of the 509, 8-foot sections was built on-site then wheeled on carts into position. A kiosk at the start of the Boardwalk illustrates the seven interpretive stations and describes the profile of the bog under the Boardwalk and the biota.

Volunteers, who have contributed well over 60,000 service hours since 2003, operate the Boardwalk. They are docents, guides, and maintenance workers. Volunteers keep Boardwalk sections level and replace decaying deck boards and railings. Most volunteers live in the Bangor area; some have served for more than 17 years.

The mission of the Boardwalk is education. Since 2003, volunteers have guided more than 7,000, K-12 students and their teachers from 72 schools. Volunteers provide tours for senior citizens, girl and boy scout troops, nature clubs, conservation organizations, to name a few. Tours led by faculty and researchers mostly from the University of Maine cover such topics as bird migration, insect ecology, plant adaptation, mosses and lichens, hydrology, and wildflowers. All Boardwalk tours are free.

Volunteers also make presentations to area groups such as the Bangor Lions Club, Bangor and Old Town Rotarians, and Orono-Old Town Kiwanis and they staff information tables at area events.

In early 2010 we noticed the untreated hemlock wood deteriorating, mainly from wood-decaying fungi. Because Boardwalk replacement was inevitable, we started a Capital Campaign to raise funds to replace it. Through a bidding process at University of Maine, Great Northern Docks in Naples was selected to replace the Boardwalk with long-lasting composite decking, aluminum frames, and stainless steel footings. As of November 2017, we have raised about $940,000 and replaced 395 sections, leaving 114 to replace and approximately $130,000 yet to raise. To keep on schedule to complete reconstruction by late fall 2018 we must complete fundraising by summer 2018.

Future maintenance is ensured. In 2002 we established an Endowment at the University of Maine Foundation (the Boardwalk’s fiscal sponsor) that now equals nearly $183,000 and will provide annual income.

We thank several Bangor area businesses that have provided financial gifts or hosted fund-raisers at their establishments; however, we really need greater financial support from area businesses.  If each business would make a one-time contribution of $1,000 to sponsor a section we would quickly reach the goal.  If individuals, who are able, would step up to sponsor a section that would be just as helpful. If everyone who enjoys the Boardwalk would make a donation it would help us reach our goal. Please send a check payable to the University of Maine Foundation  (Boardwalk Campaign on memo line) to 2 Alumni Place, Orono, ME 04469.  Also, you can make an online donation through the Foundation website: our.umaine.edu/OronoBogBoardwalk.

In the words of Orono resident and Boardwalk supporter, Professor Robert Klose, University of Maine at Augusta (Bangor campus): “The Bog Boardwalk is everything a considerate, intelligent, carefully thought-out environmental project should be.  It benefits everyone, offends no one, has no critics.  It is a gift to the people of Maine and to those who visit Maine.  In its short life it has risen to the status of a state treasure.”

Jim Bird, Director, Orono Bog Boardwalk, has volunteered at the Boardwalk for 16 years. Jerry Longcore, Orono Land Trust representative to the Boardwalk Management Committee, has volunteered at the Boardwalk for 17 years.