A Maine Appalachian Trail Conservation Hero
By Bob Proudman and Beth Critton
This month, we memorialize Robert C. (Bob) Cummings—a stalwart Appalachian Trail supporter, thru-hiker, journalist, and conservationist who died at his beloved home in Phippsburg, Maine, in January. He was 86.
Bob was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for discovering and publicizing that more than 400,000 acres of public land in Maine—set aside when the state was founded—had been “lost.”
In Maine’s 1820 constitution, “Public Lots” were defined as one-twentieth of each township (1,000 acres on average) and were set aside to be used eventually for municipal buildings, schools, and churches. However, by 1970, ten million acres had never been settled in western and northern Maine, those lots were never accessible or available as public lands, and the “timber and grass rights” of the unincorporated townships were sold.
In Cummings obituary
(which he wrote himself) he reflected, “Most found the idea that the state could misplace 400,000 acres of land absurd. My editors and most readers treated the story as almost a joke. None of the major environmental groups paid any attention. My role was to keep the story alive until the legal and political processes could take notice and respond.” With more than two dozen stories published in newspapers, Bob succeeded in galvanizing public support and the attention of the legislature. The Maine Supreme Court ruled that the public lots did, indeed, belong to the people of Maine. There followed a complex process of consolidating 450,000 acres of land under the newly created Bureau of Public Lands.
In 1971—as a greenhorn, 20-something conservation staffer for the Appalachian Mountain Club—I (Bob Proudman) got to know Cummings as a colleague, friend, and mentor. We both attended hearings of the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission and other regulatory and legislative bodies. He always had a breast-pocket full of #2 lead pencils without erasers, his right forefinger black with graphite, constantly jotting on plain, unlined, yellow paper on a clipboard as some timber industry lawyer droned on for 20 minutes. The words looked like scribbling to me, and I once asked, “Bob, how can you read that?” He smiled and said, “I can’t. But the LURC and the timber lawyers know that I know exactly what they said.”
In the early 70s, working with AMC, I unsuccessfully asked the Brown Paper Company about protecting the Mahoosuc Mountain range to commemorate AMC’s centennial anniversary in 1976. Later, thanks to Bob’s coaching, I asked Maine’s Bureau of State Parks (now Bureau of Parks and Lands) if we could consolidate trade lands to protect the Mahoosucs. Due to poor timber values on the A.T. ridgecrest, the timber companies concurred, trading more than two acres of ridgecrest for each acre of valley-bottom lands more suitable for timbering.
In 1977, the Maine Legislature and Governor approved the acquisition by land-trades of approximately 21,000 acres of the Maine portion of the Mahoosucs with two paper companies. Today, the Mahoosuc Public Reserved Lands total more than 40,000 acres (see a map of those lands here
Other A.T. lands authorized by public trades include holdings near Sabbathday Pond and the Bigelow Mountain Preserve, where Maine’s citizens mandated acquisition by statewide public referendum.
In 1993, bored with retirement, Bob announced he was going to Georgia and walking home. He arrived on the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia on April 15 that year and climbed Katahdin October 16.
Bob was a Trail maintainer, officer, and newsletter editor for the Maine A.T. Club. In June 2002, he joined with others to found the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust. He became the Trust’s second president and longstanding director (see Conservation Champion Bob Cummings Passes Away
For his distinguished contributions to the Appalachian Trail project, Bob was named an Honorary Member at ATC’s 2005 biennial meeting.
Long live the example and vision, and our memories, of this ardent conservationist and wonderful outdoorsman, Robert C. Cummings!
Beth Critton is Chair of the Stewardship Council
Bob Proudman is now an ATC consultant contributing to The Register.
[Note: This memorial to Bob Cummings
is posted on ATC's website]
Calling All Citizen Scientists!
is National Citizen Science Day. A citizen scientist is an individual who voluntarily contributes his or her time and effort towards scientific research, often in collaboration with a professional scientist or organization. Today’s opportunities to participate in citizen science are virtually endless; in fact did you know that there are several opportunities to be a citizen scientist for the Appalachian Trail?
The A.T. Seasons
project is looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help monitor the seasonal changes of plants and animals along the Trail. From Georgia to Maine, volunteers are collecting data that will help us characterize climatic trends along the A.T. This citizen-science project is a long-term effort that requires committed volunteers who are looking forward to hitting the Trail on a regular basis.
The A.T. Rare Plant Program
is also in need of volunteers to monitor rare plant sites across the A.T. corridor. The A.T. corridor is home to an outstanding number of species of special concern, and the help of volunteers ensures their protection and longevity. This citizen-science opportunity is an ongoing effort that requires committed volunteers interested in monitoring on an annual basis.
If you would like to get involved with either of these efforts, please e-mail email@example.com
for more details.
Behind the Masthead - Meet Register Editor Sue Daniels
I am ATC's Conservation Coordinator and the staff editor for The Register
. I joined the Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff in 1989 and currently work at ATC headquarters on a variety of projects, including editing Trail management documents, handbooks, and web pages, handling the volunteer recognition and L.L. Bean Grants to A.T. Clubs programs, responding to inquiries on Trail management and volunteer opportunities, and providing administrative support for the Stewardship Council and other ATC programs and initiatives.
Please send any comments, suggestions, and subscription requests for The Register
to firstname.lastname@example.org. Beth Critton, Bob Proudman, and I work closely on each issue, and we want to hear from you!
Spring boundary maintenance is upon us, and ATC field staff are out in the woods working alongside our volunteer corridor monitors. If you or your club would like to spend time with the field staff, please reach out to your ATC regional office to schedule a work trip. They can also provide you with boundary paint, PPE supplies, signage, and tick repellent.
This season, the Mid-Atlantic staff is excited to partner with the Keystone Trails Association (KTA) in hosting an event to maintain 4.5 miles of boundary near Palmerton, PA between Little Gap and Lehigh Gap. The trip is scheduled for April 26-27 and i
s open to any volunteer interested in helping out and learning more about KTA. Email me with any questions regarding the trip, and I hope to see you out in the field. You can also check out KTA work events on their Meetup page: http://www.meetup.com/Keystone-Trails-Association-The-Voice-of-PAs-Hikers/
Corridor Stewardship Coordinator
ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office