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Maine

Journey to Moose River and No. 5 Bog

The Conservancy is working to protect two of Maine's natural treasures.

by Kate Frazer

“Will we know when we’re in the bog?” I ask director of conservation programs Barbara Vickery over the noise of squishing boots and snapping branches. After all, we’ve already slogged through knee-deep water, and the soggy landscape seems pretty boglike to me.

Barbara laughs. “You’ll know,” she says. And she’s right. In one breathtaking moment, the whole landscape opens up. A carpet of red peat moss stretches forth as far as the eye can see, patched with green and gold sedges. We’re in Number 5 Bog (No. 5 Bog) — one of the largest, most diverse and least disturbed peatlands in the eastern U.S. and one of the few remaining places in the northeast U.S. with no discernible human impact.

As the clouds above us shift, the sun illuminates an array of interesting plants. I ask Barbara about the tiny red berries clinging to evergreen vines. “Bog cranberries,” she replies, but she’s only half listening. She’s kneeling on the wet mat examining cottongrass — a wetland sedge with wispy white plumes.

Barbara has had No. 5 Bog and the adjacent Moose River on her wish list of conservation for more than 25 years. And while she’s surveyed the property by plane, this is the first time she’s seeing it from the ground — the way a botanist really gets to know a place. I’ve joined Barbara, her husband Peter and communications director Sean Fitzpatrick on an exploration of this ecological gem which, until recently, was not entirely protected.

Canoeing Through the Clouds

Beyond ecological services and rare ecosystems, this landscape provides something else that has become increasingly difficult to find: the solitude and splendor of remote wildness. So after a day of exploring the bog and a night camping near the river, we set out to discover this region the way thousands of people do each year: by canoe.

Shaped like a longbow, the Bow trip doesn't require a car to transport boats and equipment, making it a popular excursion for summer camps as well as snowshoers, hunters, bird-watchers and paddlers. The ease of navigation is one reason the trip is one of Maine’s most popular — another reason is its sheer beauty. The reflection of the sky in the still water makes me feel like I’m canoeing through the clouds.

We follow the river under a forested canopy, watching white-winged crossbills fly back and forth across the channel. With each pull of the paddle, we discover something new: fast waters rushing over boulders provide good spawning habitat for fish, while slower stretches create deep pools where adult brook trout find the cooler water they need in the hot summer months.

Preserving Opportunities for Discovery

Canoeing with Barbara and Peter is humbling. Though the Vickerys have a few years on us, my colleague and I must work as hard as we can to keep pace, and we’re relieved when their canoe finally slows. A cow moose has stepped from the shore into the river.

She watches us, making sure that we pose no threat, then dunks her massive head below the water. Seconds later, she emerges with a mouthful of pondweed. She pauses, chews, then submerges again as we float past. “Protecting No. 5 Bog and the last piece of the Bow trip helps ensure a healthy flow of water to Moosehead Lake, as well as wildlife habitat and opportunities for research, but it also ensures that people will have access to this beauty,” says Barbara. “We’ve preserved more than a stretch of river and a wetland here, we’ve helped preserve an opportunity for people to get to know and love this part of Maine.”

Kate Frazer is a senior writer for The Nature Conservancy.

 

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