Freedom — May 4, 2012 — Fourteen teens from Fryeburg Academy’s Pequawket Valley Alternative School have literally been putting their backs into improving the pitch pine and scrub oak habitat of the ecologically important Ossipee Pine Barrens for the past week and a half.
“It’s better than regular school. We’re not just sitting in class — we’re doing something. And I like being outdoors,” said sophomore Bethany Keaten, of Denmark, Maine, as she and classmate Carissa Bumbucca, also of Denmark, worked to plant scrub oaks Thursday morning in the day’s mist. “But my shoulders are killing me!” said Bumbucca.
Working 9 a.m. to noon since April 23, the high school students planted more than 2,000 pitch pine and 250 scrub oak trees in what was once a gravel pit off Ossipee Lake Road. Working under the tutelage of school director Dede Frost and assistant Andy Kearns along with Wink Lees of The Nature Conservancy, students learned about the ecology of the barrens, controlled burn practices, and the value of teamwork.
Lees — who is the Northern New Hampshire land steward for The Nature Conservancy — said he was very impressed with the work ethic of the students.
“To tell you the truth, I was afraid this might be a hassle, but they have been great. We’ve gotten a lot of work done, and they have been terrific,” said Lees, working alongside the students Thursday morning.
Materials for the community service project were funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Serving as local funding coordinator was Nels Liljedahl of Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conway office.
Frost said the alternative school was founded 20 years ago to provide an option for Fryeburg Academy students who have troubles with more traditional education settings. The 15-pupil school is for grades 10 through 12, ages 15 through 19.
“The kids have a condensed schedule from 8 a.m. to noon every school day,” said Frost at the 35-acre former gravel pit Thursday morning, as the 12 students went at the root dipping, planting, mulching and watering work. “They have no study hall, or breaks for lunch — although we eliminate the extras, we follow all state of Maine education regulations, and it is very much a real Maine high school diploma that the students earn.”
Students, she said, leave school at noon, and then go on to full-time jobs, or in some cases, to care for their children.
“Some of them have been living on their own for years,” said Frost, who said community service projects such as the Pine Barrens planting work help educate young people on many levels. “The community service component is fulfilled in two ways,” said Frost. “We try and do a far-reaching community service project we raise funds for and usually travel some where every fall. It may be to help out after a disaster as far away as Florida. We were in Virginia, for example, last year.
“The second component is that it’s nice to give back to the community,” said Frost. “These students are giving their all. They are a short skip away form being adults in our community, so these types of projects are very valuable.”
She said the Pine Barrens project joins a list of many other conservation projects over the past five years.
“The projects teach them a work ethic, team work, communication skills, how to accept criticism. So it’s all helpful,” said Frost.
As part of the project, she will provide an overview to both The Nature Conservancy and Natural Resources Conservation Service on the number of hours put in by students.
“Both the NRCS and The Nature Conservancy do a report. The kids through our school do an end-of-year project which recounts their experiences personally,” said Frost, who said the two-week planting was to slated to end May 4.
Participating students in addition to Keaten and Bumbucca included: David Gibley, junior; Tom Fuller, senior; Brandon Follett, senior; Richard Brett, senior; Hunter Calomb, sophomore; Jake Townsend, junior; Bradley Bartkey, sophomore; Nicole Condo-Jerome, junior; Gus Maillo, junior; and Cody Marceau, senior.
About the Pine Barrens
The pine barrens ecosystem of Ossipee, Madison, Freedom, and Tamworth is the last relatively large and intact example in New Hampshire, according to Lees. According to The Nature Conservancy’s website (www.nature.org), the Ossipee Pine Barrens were shaped more than 10,000 years ago, when retreating ice age glaciers left behind a broad, deep sandy outwash plain. Too dry and nutrient poor to support agriculture or many of the more typical forests of northern New England, areas with these sandy-gravelly soil types became known as “barrens.” Despite the tough growing conditions, the pitch pine and scrub oak thrive there, rejuvenated over the eons by lightning and human-sparked fires.
Lees said The Conservancy does prescribed burns in late summer.
The Ossipee Pine Barrens not only provide habitat for a diversity of unique and rare plants and animals in New Hampshire, but they also safeguard and recharge the largest stratified drift aquifer in the state, Lees said. The conservancy’s first land acquisition in the pine barrens occurred in 1988, when 341 acres in Madison were protected along what is known as the West Branch of the Ossipee River. Twenty years and 13 land conservation transactions later, the preserve now consists of nearly 4.5 square miles of pine barrens and supporting habitat in Freedom, Madision, Ossipee and Tamworth.
In addition, due to the efforts of the Trust for Public Land and local partners, the adjoining Freedom Town Forest was protected and is managed by the local community.
Nowadays, there are more than 6,000 contiguous acres of conservation land in and around the pine barrens. Thanks to the efforts of the Fryeburg students working with The Conservancy and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Ossipee Pine Barrens will be that much more vibrant.