The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes, which are painted on trees and rocks so hikers don't lose their way. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

In this strange story from the Maine wilderness, Appalachian Trail Hall of Famer David Field unravels a mystery and catches two “thieves” while maintaining a section of the famous trail in the state’s western mountains.

Originally mapped out and constructed in the 1930s, the AT is a footpath that spans from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine, measuring about 2,200 miles and marked with white painted blazes. Over the years, the trail has gained popularity among long-distance backpackers and day hikers. Nowadays, it’s estimated that 3 million visitors hike at least a section of the trail each year.

Credit: Brian Feulner

Field, who is originally from Phillips, has continuously maintained a stretch of the trail for more than 60 years, starting when he was just 16 years old. In addition, he’s led major relocations of the trail in Maine, which significantly improved the route.

A retired University of Maine professor of forest resources, Field has served on the executive committee of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club for many years, 10 of which he served as president. He’s the author of the book “Along Maine’s Appalachian Trail.” And in 2013, he was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame, which was developed by the Appalachian Trail Museum to honor people who have made exceptional and positive contributions to the trail.

Today, Field is an overseer of lands for the Maine club, guiding others in taking care of the trail.

Here’s his story.

Credit: Courtesy of the Maine Appalachion Trail Club

Mystery of the disappearing labels

By David Field

Years ago, I was re-blazing the Appalachian Trail across the open ledges along the great saddle on Saddleback Mountain near Rangeley. In those days, we were still using the Jewel Paint & Varnish Co.’s titanium oxide-based “Appalachian Trail White” product, with its distinct red, white and blue paper label. Myron Avery (a Lubec native who spearheaded the creation of the famous trail in the 1930s) swore by this paint and considered it the only legitimate material to use to blaze the AT.

Credit: Courtesy of David Field

To reduce pack weight, I left a couple of the paint cans beside the AT as I worked over to The Horn, one of the mountain’s peaks. On the way back, I met two lovely ladies from Canada who were heading north. When I got back to the paint cans, they had been neatly stripped of their paper labels.

A couple of days later, I happened to be hiking on Sugarloaf when I met two familiar-looking women. Their horrified looks when I suggested that they might be carrying a couple of contraband paint can labels were priceless. They ‘fessed up on the spot and said that they just wanted a souvenir of their hike on the AT and thought that the labels would not be missed, and certainly that they would not be confronted for their petty larceny!

Just before Christmas that year, I received in the mail a beautiful pair of hand-knit woolen mittens from Canada with the “AT” symbol artistically worked into the fabric. And if I recall correctly, both hikers later joined the Maine Appalachian Trail Club.

Credit: Courtesy of David Field

Do you have a strange story from the Maine wilderness?

While spending time in the Maine outdoors, have you ever seen or experienced something that was amazing, amusing or strange? If so, you can submit your story and any accompanying photos to Aislinn Sarnacki by emailing asarnacki@bangordailynews.com. If your story is selected for this series, you’ll be notified beforehand. All stories are lightly edited for clarity.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.