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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Book Review: "Along Maine's Appalachian Trail" by David B. Field
By Milton M. Gross
Oct 28, 2012 - 12:05:26 AM

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This paperback history of the Appalachian Trail is the first complete history of it I've seen. It goes back before 1932, the year a volunteer cleared the first section of the AT in Maine. Milt Gross photo.
Dave Field has spent literally most of his life working as a volunteer on and for the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He began on Saddleback near Rangeley as a teenager and now a retired University of Maine Forestry Professor, he continues. At Saddleback and all up and down the AT in Maine and beyond.

I know Dave, and for me he typifies the best in volunteerism. Further, his life must be very satisfying, as he has spent virtually all of it in the Maine woods, on the AT in those woods, and on those Maine mountains.

I first met him around 1980, when I had been climbing Moody Mountain west of Andover and found the trail washed out on a steep side hill. I took some time then, moved a small log into place to help stop earth from washing away the pathway, and then continued my hike.

Someone in the Maine Appalachian Trail Club soon after asked me if I'd be interested in serving as a volunteer maintainer on the Moody Mountain section of the AT. I did that for several years, but lacked the tools to keep the summit area clear of grassy brush. Next I was asked if I would become a corridor monitor a bit west of there. It was Dave Field who asked me. Again, I did and served in that volunteer capacity, a few years ago moving to a section west of Monson, and now having dropped it because Mr. Right Leg doesn't like clambering off trail with Mr. Arthur Itis invading his joints.

It was to Dave I had written a letter around 1979, expressing my interest in joining the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. Eventually this busy man returned my correspondence, and I joined MATC.

I knew almost nothing about Dave then. I know a lot more now, over 30 years later.

His book about the history of the AT in Maine is excellent. It was published by Arcadia (not Acadia) Publishing in Charleston, South Carolina in 2011. The list price is $21.99, although MATC members can buy it at www.matc.org for a bit less. E-mail purchases through Arcadia Publishing are at sales@arcadiapublishing.com.

I find only two negatives about the book. The pages that contain only text are too-tightly printed with not enough space between lines, it is somewhat difficult to read -- although my new glasses help some. If that text could be given more white space and spread a bit between the lines, it would be a lot easier to read.

My other complaint is that when I read of all the volunteering other MATC members, and the original pioneers of the AT in Maine, did -- a lot of it, I realize how little I've done over the years. Largely my lack was of time to get out onto the AT. I do some computer "stuff" that helps, but it is hard to feel like you're volunteering on the AT when you're sitting at home in front of Mr. iMac.

I have known for years many of MATC's volunteers, who have done so much it boggles the mind. And I've never met one who bragged about his or her efforts to maintain the AT in Maine and provide assistance to hikers.

Along Maine's Appalachian Trail not only offers a complete and fascinating history of how Maine's 281 miles of the world's longest hiking trail happened, but from somewhere like ancient magic Dave found really great old photos.

The cover photo, for example, taken by Dave shows Andrew M. Field looking over the Bigelow range toward the Horns from the west side of West Peak. (Andrew and Michael, shown in other photos, must be related to Dave, but he doesn't explain that relationship -- the third of my two negatives relating to the book.) Dave took this photo in 1975.

For those who want more Maineiacs involved in the Pine Tree State's projects, it was a Lubec native, Myron Avery, who made sure the AT didn't terminate in New Hampshire as it was originally planned.

The 1920s begins the story of the AT's beginnings in Maine with a host of players, some volunteers, others with the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Warden Service, and with the cooperation of private landowners. The AT at first followed any roads, such as log roads as well as being bushwhacked through the tough stuff of Maine's mountains and woods.

The AT hikers use today is in most places a different route than the original, as those involved moved it to higher and more rugged ground.* Along my first corridor-monitoring route, I came across a sign dated 1970, which was when the relocation began. That sign is buried in the woods, but this book brings all the information forward about that relocation and the AT's history in Maine.

Planning the route without GPS and other modern tools must have been really difficult. One 1930 photo in Along Maine's Appalachian Trail shows a photograph of the Saddleback Range. On the photo are arrows and written descriptions of the route the Trail was to follow. That's how it was done, in part, writing on photographs.

The book is divided into planning and blazing, building, lean-to and campsite construction, history, managing, rebuilding, and protecting the Trail. It is a fascinating, complete record of everything concerning the AT in Maine.

The acknowledgements state, "Information about the first 30 years came from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club archives; the remaining 50 years relied on the archives and the author's personal knowledge. The author has scanned nearly 10,000 documents from the archives and continues to extend that record."

It was the Maine woods and my first hike up Katahdin on the AT as a youth that brought me to Maine as a resident in 1965 and my relationship with the AT in Maine that has formed the center of my life here since.

But it is the selfless volunteering of so many individuals in MATC that makes me appreciate the AT in Maine and keeps me humble about my tiny role.

Dave Field's life, a lifetime volunteering on the AT and as a member of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WVA, is an inspiration to any who want their lives to count toward a goal.

Along Maine's Appalachian Trail ties it all together in one literary place, not a lean-to or campsite but a permanent record of so much good done by so many people and of the AT itself.

* One of my volunteer duties is to type into our computer information from survey cards filled out by hikers along the AT in Maine. These cards are collected from along the AT by other volunteers and are compiled by yet another volunteer for various uses. On her card, one hiker wrote, "Hoping to hike south. Don't need to see every mountain."

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column

Milt Gross Book Reviews


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