June 3 – 16, 2016Vol. 18, No. 1

We Can All Learn from Mother Nature

The author with a Long Pond brown trout.

by Pete Kallin

Greetings to the greater Belgrade Lakes Community and welcome back summer residents and visitors!

When I was growing up and there was any kind of ruckus in the house, which was pretty common with six kids, my mother would tell us to, "Take it outside!" We would then head out to the woods behind the house to find something to do.

My mother was a wise woman. Fifty years before Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods in 2008, she had an innate understanding of "nature deficit disorder" and knew that direct exposure to nature is essential for a child's healthy physical and emotional development. Louv later proved that kids who spend a lot of time outside are healthier, have longer attention spans, and are less likely to suffer from depression or childhood obesity.

If you haven't read Louv's book, you should. I hope this column will inspire you to take advantage of all the outdoor recreation opportunities in our area and especially about the importance of getting youngsters outside and interacting with Mother Nature. Mother Nature is an amazing teacher. We can all learn from her.

This year was an unusually warm winter with very little snow and a very early ice-out — March 29 on Great Pond and Long Pond — about three weeks earlier than normal. The early spring was cold and windy and the water took a while to begin warming up.

Mel Croft with East Pond brookie.

Once the surface water hit about 50°F, the fish began to get active, and I caught a lot of very large bass on flies fished deep near the bottom in about twenty feet of water near dropoffs. The first ten smallmouth bass I caught this year were all in the 3-4.5 lb. range. Also, the shortened ice fishing season has left a lot of nice trout in the lakes. At least one eight-pound brown came out of Great Pond; I got a six-pounder from Long Pond; and Mel Croft has been catching both brook and brown trout in East Pond.

By the time this article is published, the water temperature will be in the mid to high 60s in most of our lakes and the bass will be in the shallows, either on beds or chasing sunfish on beds. Fast action can be had with surface poppers, jerk baits, or Senko type jigs.

Alex and Kathi Wall on The Mountain.

The hiking trails in the Kennebec Highlands and nearby Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance properties like French Mountain, Mount Phillip, and The Mountain are beautiful, verdant, and awash in spring and early summer wildflowers like trillium and lady slippers and birds and other wildlife. The black flies have already disappeared and it has been so dry the mosquitoes are barely noticeable, especially if there is a bit of a breeze.

Hiking provides relaxation, improved fitness, and allows you to develop a new perspective about our region. My friend Kathi Wall works at the Maine Lakes Resource Center Annex in the village and has turned The Mountain Trail into her personal Fitbit. Several times a week, she hikes a specific stretch of the trail on her lunch hour and tracks her fitness improvement by tracking how long it takes her to get to a certain point, and her pulse, and respiration rate when she gets there. At the same time she can see how the woods change with time, which flowers are blooming when, and what birds and animals are out and about.

When you are out in the woods and on the trails, please be careful and use common sense. In the third week of May, a careless hiker started a fire at the top of French Mountain that ended up burning several acres on the side of the cliffs overlooking Whittier Pond and some of the top of the mountain.

An American toad hiding under a rock next to the burned-over area on French Mountain.

A potential disaster was averted by the rapid response of fire companies from ten local towns and the Maine State Forest Service, which had two helicopters scooping water from nearby lakes in 250-gallon buckets and dropping it on the steep cliffs where the firemen couldn't reach. The local firefighters ran over a half mile of hose to the top of the mountain and spent hours containing the fire with shovels, axes, and five gallon "Indian fire pumps" on their backs.

It actually took about three days before the fire finally burned itself out. It was a heroic effort but an unfortunate and expensive expenditure of taxpayer resources because of someone's thoughtless careless actions. The next day I saw numerous birds like hermit thrushes, pine siskins, and various sparrows befuddled and searching for their burned out nests.

As you can see, there are plenty of recreational opportunities in the Belgrade Lakes Region. Groups like the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance lead hikes and paddles throughout the summer. Check their website for the latest schedule, which is usually included elsewhere in this paper. I will be writing about some of these trips throughout the summer in future editions of this column. In the meantime, take a kid fishing, hiking, or paddling in a canoe. Or take a parent, so they can become a kid again.

A fire hose snakes across the top of French Mountain and a patch of burned ground.

Pete Kallin is a past director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance.