Sunday, April 29, 2012

Craig Brook, a National Treasure

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, when Atlantic salmon return to Maine’s rivers after feeding for two to three years at sea in the cold waters off Greenland, they will always return to their own native river where they hatched four years earlier. If an Atlantic salmon can survive all its predators, it can repeat the fresh water and ocean migration cycle and spawn, several times, during its life span. In spite of this, the Gulf of Maine’s distinct population of Atlantic salmon is an endangered species and the last remaining population of its kind in the United States. My grandsons and I learned all of that in a short time through well presented educational displays and interactive learning aids at the Craig Brook Fish Hatchery and Museum situated on Alamoosook Lake in East Orland, Maine.

The facility’s hatchery was established in 1871 as the first of its kind in the United States. Its purpose then, as today, is to propagate and stock juvenile Atlantic salmon to support their population. Over time, the facility has expanded to include archives and resource center, a museum, seminar site, an Atlantic salmon living stream, boat launches, picnic area, beautiful nature trails and a volunteer group called Friends of Craig Brook. There’s so much more you can learn by visiting the link at the bottom of this blog. Right now, I’d like to give you a tour of Craig Brook through the eyes of my grandsons during their recent visits to this quiet out of the way National treasure. 

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart  2011 All Rights Reserved
"The Leaper" welcomes guests to Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery.

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2011 All Rights Reserved

An interactive way to measure Altantic salmon survival rates.

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Learning we can make a difference.
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Discovering what's in a watershed.

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Stages of growth and development of young Atlantic Salmon

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© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2011 All Rights Reserved

A healthy habitat is everything an Atlantic Salmon needs! 

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Adult Atlantic Salmon are housed in pens of water from their native rivers.

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Adult Atlantic Salmon 

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Artifacts from Ancient Fishermen at Alamoosook Lake

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There's lots to see and do at Craig Brook, inside and out.

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2011 All Rights Reserved

Fun and education for everyone!

Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery does not charge admission fees and group tours for schools and organizations can be arranged. However, donations are always welcome to assist in the operation, upkeep, and future expansion of the facilities.  Leashed pets with responsible owners are welcomed on the outside grounds. 

For more information: (207) 469-6701 x 215 or

© Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Place of the Rocks

© Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart all Rights Reserved
Penobscot means "the place of the white shining rocks".

I can't tell you how many times I have passed by this place in the course of a routine day. It's the "place of the white shining rocks" situated conveniently by the on and off ramps of  I-395 on South Main Street in Brewer, Maine. At first glance, it seems like there are simply three huge rocks strategically placed in a rest area. A second glance will bring the realization there’s artwork carved on the front of the tallest center rock. But, as with most things, you really do have to take a minute to stop in order to appreciate everything you will never see just driving by. 

©Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved©Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved©Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved

A sign by the rocks, I had never read before, told me the story of why “the place of the rocks” exists. While discovering the artwork cleverly crafted on the other sides of the rocks not visible from the road, I also walked on bricks manufactured in Brewer a long time ago and artfully laid between the rocks in a pattern representing continuity. Since my husband’s grandfather, Bruce VanWart, had worked in a Brewer brickyard, I was touching a bit of family history at “the place of the rocks” as well. An old Bangor Daily News clipping (below) of an article by Lawrence Carroll Allin, published on October 21, 1987, tells the Brewer brick story extremely well. The reason we have the article today is because my mother-in-law spied Bruce VanWart in the1939 photo that accompanied it and she passed it on to my husband with an arrow pointing out his grandfather, a man he’d never met.

All in all, I decided this little rest area is a beautiful place on the Penobscot River bank to stop, whether you're traveling though the area or a local, like me, taking a moment to embrace the local scenery. I'm sure I'll stop here again to enjoy the tranquil beauty of the river and the pictorial story sculpted in the monumental Maine bluestone rocks of it's natural resources and haunting image of Penobscot Indian Princess Molly, all created by Carole Hanson and Andreas Von Huene to commemorate Brewer's Centennial in 1989.  

Beyond all else, it's simply a nice place to walk a dog and imagine what the river was like when the bricks, that lay there now, were made.

Nosing Around Maine  © Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bass Harbor Head: My Guiding Light

Bass Harbor Head Light 

© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved
Bass Harbor Head Light Tower
Last year I revised a t-shirt design I had created in the 1990s of Bass Harbor Light. Several months after, I was amazed to discover Bass Harbor Head Light is going to be featured as the quarter in the United States Mint 2012 America the Beautiful Ouarters® Program. I couldn’t have planned the timing of things any better than this accident of fate. I took it as a sign to poke around Bass Harbor a little bit more and Blae was hungry for some salt air.
Photo © Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved
Blae at Seawall Park
SW Harbor, Maine

© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved
Around 1860, when the Bass Harbor Head Light was fairly new, more people inhabited its surrounding islands and coastline and one in five Maine residents were mariners. Maine’s lighthouses were key to survival in many instances. In modern times, our U. S. lighthouses are sort of like castles in Europe, each stands tall with its own unique history and mystique that draws visitors from near and far, year after year. Maine’s lighthouses, in many cases, are still functioning and useful, as well.

Bass Harbor, Maine is on the southwestern portion of Mount Desert Island known as the “quite side”. Its lighthouse was erected in 1858 to mark the bar across the eastern entrance of Blue Hill Bay. In 1974 the light was automated by the U. S. Coastguard and is now a private residence with outside access to the light tower and a walking path leading you to an excellent view of its front side from the ledges below. That is if you are up to a steep and somewhat challenging climb over the rocky incline tangled with weathered tree roots clinging to the cliff. It is a beautiful, but rugged, trail.
© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved 
© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights ReservedBy car, you can reach this out-of-the-way destination via Route 3 in Ellsworth, turning right onto Route 198, then turning right again on Route 102. The lighthouse can also be observed from Maine State Ferries and other vessels operating out of Bass Harbor and Frenchboro.

© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights ReservedJohn Thurston was the first keeper to light the beacon at Bass Harbor Head on September 1, 1858. Until the US Coast Guard automated the lighthouse in 1974, twenty-two “wickies” in all had taken a turn at keeping the steadfast light glowing by their manual efforts for 116 years. Some stayed less than a full year, others two or more. Joseph M. Gray served as a keeper there from 1921 to 1938. When I read that on a sign at the lighthouse, I thought to myself how he must have really loved his job in spite of fog horns and clanging bells on those numerous days without enough visibility for the beacon’s light to do its job for those in the water depending on its guidance. My next thought was a curiosity wondering if I could locate him in my Gray family tree, since my mother’s maiden name is also Gray. Thanks to and my copy of Descendants of Joshua Gray compiled in 2005 by the Gray Reunion Committee and published by Downeast Graphics & Printing Inc., Ellsworth, Maine, I soon had my answer. This lighthouse keeper is my fourth cousin two times removed. Though I never had a chance to meet him, as his life ended before mine began, I did want to know more about him.  Back on the Internet through a link to Lighthouse Digest, I learned quite a bit. He was actually Captain Joseph M. Gray who spent a total of 40 years of lighthouse service at Crabtree Ledge, Mt. Desert Rock, Great Duck Island, Marshall Point, and Bass Harbor—after his six years of fishing off Grand Banks and before retiring to a small cottage in Tremont. A very nice newspaper article by Henry Buxton published in May 1938 and reprinted by Lighthouse Digest in 2005 about lighthouse keeper Capt. Joseph M. Gray tells a compelling tale and portrays a man I can certainly be proud to have among the branches of my family tree. Again, when fate leads you somewhere, its best to take advantage of the trip.  Seems my fascination with Maine’s lighthouses has not only inspired my creativity over the years, it has guided me to some family roots along the way.
© Copyright 2012  Gail J. VanWart All Rights Reserved
Side view of Bass Harbor Head Light 

A partnership between the U. S. Coast Guard, State of Maine and American Lighthouse Foundation intends to increase awareness of Maine’s maritime heritage and the rich history of its lighthouses and lighthouse keepers by offering visitors the opportunity to go inside many of Maine’s historic beacons on Open Lighthouse Day, which will take place on September 15 this year.

For more information about the 2012 Bass Harbor Quarter, my Bass Harbor QRtee™  
t-shirt, Maine’s lighthouse history and events, or the memories of Captain Joseph M. Gray, please check out the following links.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

There's More to Discover in Bangor, Maine

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2012
Construction cranes dwarf
Bangor's Paul Bunyan statue.
Seems people have been discovering Bangor, Maine ever since the Portuguese mariner, Estavan Gomez, a captain in Magellan’s round-the-world fleet, sailed the La Anunciada up the Penobscot River in search of the legendary Northwest Passage to the Orient in 1525 under commission of King Charles V of Spain. French explorer Samuel de Champlain was also documented to discover the area in 1604. However, the city wasn’t officially incorporated until 1791 at which time it was named after an Irish Hymn, “Bangor”, by a pastor from Boston named Seth Noble. A healthy fishing and fur trade drew the earliest settlers to the area. Then Maine’s vast forests brought wealth beyond compare to the region making Bangor the lumber capital of the world and one of the busiest ports on the East Coast by the 1850s. Shipbuilding and shipping commerce thrived until the twentieth century when pulp and paper industries took their place. Since then, Bangor’s central location has grown into a social and economic center for the state and offers the region a wide selection of retail and service businesses, education and employment opportunities.

Recent development of Bangor’s waterfront along the Penobscot River has not only enhanced its beauty, its brought entertainment and cultural growth to the city in the form of the an annual Folk Festival, Waterfront Concerts, Hollywood Casino and Raceway, plus revitalization of it’s historic Opera House which houses the Penobscot Theatre Company. There are also a growing number of museums and galleries in the area, including Maine Discovery Children’s Museum and Cole’s Transportation Museum. Its history is very rich, especially in Bass Park, the home of the Bangor State Fair, one of the oldest in the country, and a raceway that’s featured harness racing since 1893.
© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2012

Yes, there is definitely a lot to discover in and about Bangor, Maine. That’s the reason why a construction site on Main Street stretches all the way from Dutton Street to the corner of Buck Street and is changing the view of the entrance to historic Bass Park once again. Major changes to this block in my lifetime have included the 1955 opening of the now soon-to-be-demolished, v-roofed Bangor Auditorium. It was constructed behind an older auditorium, which preceded it, and was the second largest event center in New England at that time. The old structure was eventually torn down in 1967 leaving a nice park area behind the location where Bangor’s famous Paul Bunyan statue came to reside in 1959. The 31-foot, fiberglass and metal woodsman, which Bangor claims as its mythical son, was a gift to the city on its 125th anniversary and has a time capsule enclosed in its pedestal that's slated to be opened in 2084. Do not think I'll live to see that, but I have witnessed Paul, the statue, in an oversized Shriner fez to promote a convention and a bandanna for a Willie Nelson concert in July 1986 (which I have fond behind-the-scenes memories of ). The Paul Bunyan statue has even been part of the Stephen King novel, It, and, I dare say, is possibly photographed more than Stephen King or his Bangor Italianate style mansion with its surrounding unique, but fitting, bat and spider motif wrought-iron fencing.

In recent years, Hollywood Slots, newly renamed Hollywood Casino, has taken up residence across from the Bass Park entrance, where older hotels and businesses once stood, and from its parking garage you can easily view construction of the brand new Bangor Event Center, which will replace the oddly shaped, v-roofed auditorium that stands like a shadow behind it. This new structure is reclaiming space where the original auditorium once stood and is scheduled to open in July 2013.

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2012
As I mentioned earlier, I have fond memories of the Bangor Auditorium. It’s where I first saw a circus, interviewed Ted Nugent without any film in my camera, listened to a Willie Nelson concert through a headset with his lighting director, and attended a grandson’s high school graduation. Now, I’m getting itchy to see what exciting memories this new arena might bring to the city of Bangor, and of course, me.

Click these links if you are interested in progress on the new Bangor Event Center, or visiting Bangor, Maine.

Photographs and "Nosing Around Maine" Blog Posts © 2012 Gail J. VanWart
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Low's Bridge

Nosing Around Maine - Low's Bridge
Low's Bridge spans 182 years of history on the Piscataquis River.
Ice chunks flowed under it on March 22, 2012.
Photos by Gail J. VanWart

Maine’s Historic Wooden Covered Bridges; Nine Left, Guilford Claims One of Them

Guilford claims to be the Chickadee and Lilac Capital of Maine and is a town known for its efforts to promote its natural resources to create green economic opportunities, beautification and recreation. The town has been hosting a River Festival for more than half a decade and the community prides itself for the development of the Guilford Memorial River Walk that provides a place for community members and visitors to experience Bald Eagles, Osprey, Blue Heron and other natural wonders along the banks of the Piscataquis River.

Nosing Around Maine - Marker at Low's BridgeAs you travel through Guilford along Route 15 it is the Piscataquis River and a wooden covered bridge, which suddenly pops into view, that captures your attention. The Maine Department of Transportation has provided a picnic area and turnout so you can stop and appreciate the amazing structure and learn about its historic significance to the area. There is something about its presence that makes you hope it will remain long into the future, and, looking at its history, I get the feeling others have had that same hope over the past 182 years. Nosing Around Maine - Low's Bridge, Guilford, ME

In 1830, the original covered bridge was built at this location, adjacent to land once owned by an early Guilford settler named Robert Low, to provide an easy commerce route between the towns of Guilford and Sangerville, The Piscataquis River, which it spans, took the original structure down in a flood in 1832. It was rebuilt and again destroyed by floodwaters in1857. In that same year, it was reconstructed by Isaac Wharff, who hauled granite by oxen team from Guilford Mountain (over seven miles away) and Leonard Knowlton who used mathematical calculations and a patented Long-truss design to develop a sturdier bridge. The third bridge lasted for 130 years, but the river still proved to be stronger when it once again washed the bridge away in a flood on April 1, 1987. The bridge now standing in its place is a replica in appearance, but even studier to meet today’s building standards. It was designed and constructed off site then placed on the original stone-masonry abutments which were raised about three feet in hopes to avoid possible flood damage in the future. Only time will tell if it was worth the effort. Let’s hope it was.

At one time, more than 120 covered bridges graced waterways throughout the state of Maine, today, there are only nine left standing. In 1985 the Maine Department of Transportation was given the authority to maintain and preserve the states historic bridges. This included the remaining wooden covered bridges (Babbs Bridge, Hemlock Bridge, Low’s Bridge, Robyville Bridge, Watson’s Settlement Bridge, Bennett Bridge, Lovejoy Bridge, Porter Parsonsfield Bridge, and Sunday River Bridge), as well as, four other historic bridge structures (Bailey Island Bridge, Grist Mill Bridge, Sewall’s Bridge, and Wire Bridge).

© Copyright 2012 Gail J. VanWart
All Rights Reserved

If there is a place in Maine you'd like me and Blae to sniff out for you, just send us an e-mail to with "Nosing Around Maine" in the subject line, cause you can get the-ah from he-ah. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mud Season and Bar-B-Q

Yesterday, my husband and I had an appointment in Greenville, so we loaded, Blae, our faithful Border Collie, into the back seat and headed north on Route 15 towards Moosehead Lake.

Mud season came early to Maine this year. Buds are bulging on tree branches when folks are usually still snowmobiling and ice fishing. An odd weather pattern is breaking records with three days in a row this week reaching into 80° F range. So, it was definitely mud season yesterday, a month or two ahead of schedule as we traveled through the farmland and small towns that melded into each other, as the hills grew taller and the population grew smaller.

26 Greenville Road in Uptown Monson, Maine      Photo by Gail J. VanWart

Along the way, we encountered many quaint destinations that offer experiences one can only run into on this particular Maine route. Up until a few years ago, you might have thought about going to Monson, Maine, with a population of about 700, only if you needed some slate for some reason or another—or was perhaps hiking the Appalachian Trail. Now there’s another reason to go there, its a rustic little eatery called Spring Creek Bar-B-Q, which is, by all means, a rare one-of-a-kind place folks seem to run into by accident the first time, then go out of their way to revisit. From its small town location, right on the main drag near the edge of Lake Hebron, to its colorful ambiance and witty signage, Spring Creek Bar-B-Q is a picture of times gone by that’s alive and well in the here and now. If you are looking for the best barbecue this side of Texas, you’ll want to eat there.

Mike and Kim Witham are the owners and purveyors of fine smoked meats served there. Mike designed his own smokers and custom grilling equipment for the operation that’s one of only a few places to grab a bite within miles. People who have stopped in by chance on their way to the Moosehead Lake region, or followed the White Dots to their door while hiking the Appalachian Trail, have generated a lot of word of mouth promotion that’s gained them detailed customer reviews on and a 4.5 star rating on, plus a fair share of media coverage. An article by billed Spring Creek as “smoky fare as good as BBQ gets”. Dress is casual and the menu is a full compliment of pork, beef, and chicken barbecue you can order in or take out.  Keep in mind though, the ribs aren’t ready till after 4 p.m. but its well worth the wait. They also offer catering services and even put on a big Bar-B-Q Swap Meat that coordinates with Monson’s annual summer celebration. This year the event falls on Saturday, July 12th. Just bring your own pit and enjoy a day of good eats, live music and fun.  You can find more details at

Mud Season Hours                     Photo by Gail J. VanWart
Blae and I highly suggest, when you’re in Maine hankering for something deliciously different and yearning for an off the beaten track adventure, a trip to Monson will be well worth the journey. Spring Creek Bar-B-Q is a place you can surely get your fill of both character and good grill. But, remember, right now it’s mud season. Until it’s officially summer, you better check their hours first, especially if you aren’t within sight of their porch.

Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for summer work, they’re accepting applications.

© Copyright Gail J. VanWart 2012
All rights Reserved

Basic and interesting facts about Monson, Maine can be found at

If there is a place in Maine you'd like me and Blae to sniff out for you, just send us an e-mail to with "Nosing Around Maine" in the subject line, cause you can get the-ah from he-ah.