Monday, December 21, 2009

Here Comes the Sun!

I did something different this year, watch the fading of the shortest day of the year!  I did a 90 minute snowshoe into the woods at dusk on the solstice yesterday.  Cold temperatures have really hardened up all the trails, you can probably get by with hiking boots although snowshoes will keep you from slipping.

You can see signs of life in winter if you examine what falls onto the snow.   In several places you will find where deer have cleared 8 foot circles of snow to uproot acorns that they so desperately need to eat.  Also look under big pine trees and you'll see the skeletons of pine cones that have been picked clean, segment by segment, by red squirrels.  In some places you'll see big chips of wood in the snow.  If you look upward you'll see the woodpecker holes that have recently been created leaving the chips below.

The chaos of the holiday is in full gear but in a few short days it all comes to an end.  Folks will be looking to try out their new winter gear and discovering how fun winter can be.  The days will slowly start to lengthen, resolutions will be made, and another winter begins at Libby Hill.  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Joy of First Tracks of the Season

Something happened this past week; winter happened! From 68 degrees to wind chills below zero, it must be December in Maine! The large storm on Wednesday has made winter sports a reality with very good snowshoe conditions, although skiing is less than ideal until more snow comes.

I spent the afternoon checking snowshoe trails and was very happy to see that 75% had already been 'broken' by other trail users! This is a sure sign of how popular Libby Hill is becoming for snowshoers. Three years ago the snowshoe trails were almost unknown and it required that I had to break all 2.5 miles (we now have 4 miles). Now maybe 2.5 miles doesn't seem far but if snow is more than 6 inches you get quite a workout if you are the first one out on the trails. Today though I only had to break about 1/2 mile of trail. We also met another couple out on the trails today. I was pleased to learn they are 'regulars' and already have made the Ghost and Lynx trails their favorites. They even took on breaking the winter trail that continues past the Ghost trail.

Not many birds in the woods today, only a small gang of titmice who came by to see what were up to. Even deer tracks were pretty sparse. After a couple of hours we returned to the parking lot. I did my weekly check of the donation post and found we had no donations this week. Either the Grinch or Scrooge must have been on the trails today! Regardless, take a couple of hours off from the busy holiday season and get some great physical and mental relief on the trails.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Trails and Places to Explore

With the opening of the Lynx and Ghost trails this month trail users have even more reasons to get out on the trails. The Lynx trail quickly gets you into the woods and a natural setting, whether you have 30 minutes or 4 hours, there is no excuse for not coming out on the trails now. The amazing part is that the new trails already look like they always belonged here! For a quick work out consider taking a loop that includes the Lynx > Harold Libbey > Moose Odyssey Loop. It would be a nice 1.5 mile walk and rejunventate you after a day of stress!
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Finding the Warblers

You've probably spent many hours in the woods. You've heard those echoing songs of birds deep in the woods. You may not have noticed that the songs have many variations, meaning there are many different types of birds, mostly warblers making these songs. In June, warblers are busy with their nests and are scattered all over the hill. Last year our bird watch hosted by Derek Lovitch of Freeport Wild Bird Supply opened my eyes to the over 40 species of birds that inhabit Libby Hill.

Now you'll see me with a pair of binoculars hanging from my neck trying to sneak a peak of one of the elusive warblers in the woods. My biggest challenge lately has been to see an oven bird. This bird is always sings...."teacher... teacher....teacher" when you are walking in the woods. Try as I might, I couldn't catch a glimpse of this bird even though I heard 4 of them in spots near the Middle School, Harold Libbey at top of hill, and near Holmquist Hollow. Then last week while walking by the old quarry I almost stepped on one that was sitting right on the trail; just waiting for me!

So, on your next stroll on the hill, keep an eye out for my friend and see if you can see him or his other friends: yellow throat, black throated blue warbler, or a dozen other species. Happy exploring!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Job, Tough Economy?

These are challenging times, change is everywhere. If you have been unfortunate and lost your job, consider volunteering. Volunteer work gives you some routine, helps you develop new skills, meet new people, and network for possible jobs. I myself have found that when being between jobs, working on Libby Hill was a great catalyst for me. I felt like I was doing something constructive with my time and looking back that time spent adding a trail and doing a number of other activities, were some of my most meaningful work.

If you have interest in committing some time toward a project on Libby Hill consider contacting me (Steve McPike) at 657-2114 or . We have a number of tasks that you can work on at your own schedule. It can be very therapeutic to get out in the woods on a summer day and see the fruits of your labor. So consider doing something completely different while at the same time building your skillsets and adding to your resume. You'll also have great answers at your next interview where you'll get asked "what have you been doing between jobs".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring... an new time to discover

Maybe you think this is 'mud season' with big ruts in your yard and no options for fun outdoors. You may also think Libby Hill is just for winter sports when in fact you may find that is even more interesting when the snow melts! In Gray we have mostly gravel soils, this combined with slopes results in some of the fastest drying times for trails in Maine. In just the last week the Harold Libbey Trail went from snow to mostly bone dry hiking. Here are some of the things you can do in spring:

1) Get in shape for summer walking and hiking

2) Got 20 minutes? Jump out of your car and walk on Turkey Trot by the Pond, lots of birds are coming by during migration! Turtles will also be appearing on the logs in the pond, take some binoculars.

3) Learn how to Geocache (see

4) Have the kids do some Orienteering

5) Discover Vernal Pools and listen for spring peepers and frogs

6) Photograph ferns as they open

7) Look for wildflowers or ID trees with your kids using our ID map!

8) Long days mean lots of time after work to get some exercise and clear your head after a tough day at work!

9) Fly a kite at the ball field

10) Help with Spring Clean up.... we have lots of projects you can do on your own or with a group.... just ask!
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Winter's Finale... get out and see it!

The days are getting longer, the sun stronger, and the snow softer. You are probably one of two types of people by this time of year.

Type 1 - You hate winter and have been embedded in your couch watching all 500 digital channels for the last 4 months. You complain about every storm and you seriously think maybe buying one of those bankrupcy houses in Florida would be a good move about now.

Type 2 - You race to get outside any chance you get to strap on some skiis or snowshoes so you can get some fresh air and see what is happening amongst all this white stuff.

Here is the scarry part, you can move from Type 1 to Type 2 by getting out on a sunny afternoon in March and realizing how great is to get outside in Winter in Maine! By the same token if you have had a busy month and had no time to get outside you can revert from a Type 2 to a Type 1 as well. So, get a jump on spring and spend a couple hours on the 'hill'. Winter conditions are the best they will be all season for the next 4 weeks. Live in the moment and appreciate the good things in life are truly free! Now is the time......
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Are You an Inconsiderate Trail User?

This past weekend, a horse rider decided it would be a good idea to ride their horse down the middle of our groomed ski trails. This left behind a trail of 6 inch holes for 1/2 mile. The damage can't be repaired until another significant snow storm arrives, impacting hundreds of trail users.

I guess I have a hard time understanding of why a trail user thinks leaving deep marks in the trails anytime of year is 'okay'. Did they think about the 6 hours volunteer groomers spent making the trail ready for skiiers or the 2-3 hours they will spend attempting to fix the holes left behind?

You really need to only obey three rules on any trail:

1 - don't damage the trails or cause others to have to clean up your damage

2- don't remove or harm the flora and wildlife

3- don't ruin the trail experience of others

Regrettably this trail user violated all three of these.

So, the GCE and Friend of Libby Hill are in the process for updating usage rules for pets on the trails. The first step is as follows:

Horseback Riders - Please stay off all ski and hiking trails. You may ride on Old Libby Hill Road or the snowmobile/ATV trails. The following trails are no longer available for use by horses:

Turkey Trot
Moose Odyssey
Deer Run
Holmquist Hollow
Harold Libbey
Ghost Trail
Winter Trail
School Ball Fields

These rules will stay in place year round because of damage to trails done by horses over the past 6 months. This includes:

1- erosion of Harold Libbey Trail at meadow crossing
2- trail damage in November after rains on Moose Odyssey and Turkey Trot
3- winter riding on groomed ski trails

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Approaching Zero, Rising Moon, and a New World

Its 6:30pm on a Thursday evening. Current temperature is 9 degrees and falling with a 5-10 mile an hour 'breeze'. I leave the nice comfortable cocoon of my car and strap on my snowshoes to make a test run of our upcoming full moon snowshoe hike. First thing, suddenly its not cold! It's amazing that with a little layering of polypropylene and polar fleece, you are never cold snowshoeing!

I then turn on my headlamp at first to see if it works; it does. The moon is 4 days from full and is high in the sky and about to the 3/4 stage. Venus shines very brightly to the south and as I look overhead I can see the milky way in crystalline condition. I alternate snowshoeing with my light on and off and decide to keep it on only to make sure I don't walk into a dead branch at eye level. In the distance though you see the ghostly glow of pure white snow against the moonlight.

Every 15 minutes or so I stop and listen. The woods seem almost dead quiet except for the whispering of the pines in the arctic breeze. I see tracks everywhere but no eyes peering back. Its funny for the first half hour or so, you feel a little on edge being alone in the dark. I look at the large shadows cast by the 100 year old pines and initially it seems a bit spoky to me. Then I feel comforted by their shadows.

I think about the history of this place, 250 years of wood lots, farms, saw mills, a quarry, pastures, and even Indian Wars. Yet here it sits on a cold winter night much the same as it always has, waiting for someone else to discover it. Despite the fact I've been on this hill several hundred times in the past 10 years, when I come here this night, it looks oh so alien to me. So some night, maybe soon, maybe 100 years from now, when someone else takes this trek they'll get to experience the glory of a cold winter night just like all those who have gone before these last few hundred years!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A New Year A New Opportunity

2008 was a year of constant change and turmoil. Most of us just want to get beyond and hope for a better 2009. So January brings cold and a new start. I spent a Saturday morning exploring the newly frozen bogs of Thayer brook. Here I saw dozens of deer and mouse tracks in the dry powdery snow. The temperature was about 5 degrees with a slight wind bringing the chill below zero. Yet with my snowshoes on I was very comfortable and enjoyed 2 hours of just admiring the forest of Libby Hill. The time slid by so fast I couldn't believe I had to leave soon.

We are all looking for new direction in 2009. I'd like to offer an opportunity to you if you enjoy the outdoors, giving back to the community, meeting interesting new people, seeing the fruits of your time pay off, and learning new skills. The chance I refer to is joining the "Friends of Libby Hill". Our modest organization provides an easy way to donate small or large amounts of time. We try and minimize red tape and meetings and taylor volunteer projects to an individuals preferences. I know you have thought about doing some trail work but weren't quite sure where to begin. So, here's your chance, on Monday January 26th, "Get Aquainted Night" is being sponsored by the Friends of Libby Hill. Why not drop in and see what is on the horizon for 2009 at Libby Hill. The meeting is at the Androscoggin Bank in Gray at 6:30pm. Come and see why you can make a difference and start down a new trail of discovery for 2009.
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