Sunday, October 23, 2011

Orono Bog Walk Orono, ME

     Hello and welcome to another edition of The Outdoor Wanderer! Today I have decided to talk a bit about a gem of a location, the Orono Bog Boardwalk located in Orono, Maine, but accessible from the Bangor City Forest.
     The Orono Bog is a very fascinating place, a rare wetland environment where acidic peat has built up over thousands of years. It is a culmination of many different exotic plants and animals. I have decided to walk the bog on a nice, mildly breezy October afternoon with my friend, Tim.
     Tim and I set off towards the wetlands, and are greeted by fresh air and a gentle breeze. It is a nice day to be outside. But then again, when isn't it? 
     My friend's motive is to take photos with his new camera, while mine is an escape from the grind and something to write about afterwords.
     The first thing to catch our attention before even reaching the boardwalk was a large beehive up in a tree.       
It's one reason why I love the outdoors in the fall. Any other time of year, this magnificent creation would have probably been clouded by leaves, and we probably would have passed underneath without taking notice.
     As my friend takes some time to perfect his shot, I think to myself about just how amazing a creature the bees are, or the other colony-based insects that make homes here. How they take up a job, and specialize in the task, to ultimately work together for the good of their kind as a whole. It's just an incredible evolutionary development if you really think about it. And it works for them, too. 
     We reach the boardwalk and begin to walk along it. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is a stretch of "floating" planks that stretch 4,200 ft. in a loop to bring visitors closer to the natural features the bog has to offer. The boardwalk takes you from the edges to areas that are over 20 ft. deep with peat, or dead acidic plant matter. The 4 ft. wide boardwalk brings you safely over and around the bog, allowing one to get up close to the unique flora.
A red squirrel enjoys the boardwalk with us
     I have learned that the person responsible for this boardwalk being built was a man by the name of Ron Davis. a professor for the University of Maine, he found himself bringing his classes to the bog often. He had thought that this interesting place should be shared with the public, and so he began to pull the project together. The Orono Bog Boardwalk is now a reality, and is sponsored  cooperatively by the University of Maine, the City of Bangor, and the Orono Land Trust. It has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.
"Through the Winterberry"
This image I feel helps to capture the diversity of the bog
      As I proceed deeper into the bog, any remaining earth is replaced increasingly by areas of peat moss and other mosses. They thrive in this environment, specializing in floating above the peat, and in holding water and air. 
Peat moss
     One of the most interesting plants here is the evolutionary result of little minerals and high acidic content of the peat. Pitcher plants, named so by their peculiar shape, are a carnivorous plant! They attract insects into their cavity, which is partially filled with liquid, 
Pitcher plants
And the insects can't make it back out. The insects drown in the liquid, and get broken down by enzymes into mineral nutrients that the plants can absorb. This I find truly fascinating. The pitcher plant has essentially developed a stomach, which allows it to withstand the harsh conditions of the bog. So what if there is no soil? This plant finds it's nutrients in a more creative way!

Looking down inside a carnivorous pitcher plant
     Out in the deepest parts of the bog, I come across a variety of unique plants, and a few birds. It all feels very low and open, allowing me to see a ways in the distance. At this time of year, most everything has a hue of a rusty red, dotted by the occasional patch of still green moss and white puffs of tall cotton grass. The boardwalk sinks a bit with each step, reminding me that I stand on around 25 feet of waterlogged and dead but not decomposed plant matter.
Tall cotton grass
     When we first entered the bog area, it began as forest. Out in the depths of the bog however, there is just one tree that is predominant over the majority. The black spruce tree has also adapted to the bogs. They have an appearance of being short young trees, but they are actually quite old. 
     The trees appear to grow in clusters. This is because the tree has special adaptions to the circumstances. As the mosses overtake branches of the tree, the now swallowed branches make roots, so that the tree is constantly clinging to the top. The tree clones itself with these rooted branches, forming genetically identical new trees. This is why there are clusters of these trees in the bog. the oldest trees are found in the center of the clusters.
Tree clusters
      The path slowly becomes more and more forested, and we gradually find ourselves looped back to where we started. As we make our way back to our car, I think about how much I have seen in just my short visit today. It brought forth the youth from within me, excited to experience and eager to learn. I look forward to returning here in the future, to see what the other seasons bring to my attention. 

To learn more about th Orono Bog Boardwalk, please visit:

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