A Bridge at Fields Pond

By Virginia Wright

The L. Robert Rolde Nature Center at Fields Pond allows Maine Audubon to offer nature-related activities and programs to residents of eastern, central, and northern Maine.

Bound for Fields Pond, the skier crossed along the meadow’s edge, where berry bushes and dried brown tips of ragweed and goldenrod poked through the foot-deep snow. A deer emerged later from those same bushes and made his way to a nearby apple tree.

At least, that’s the story that was written in the snow at the Fields Pond Sanctuary. Whether the skier and the deer crossed paths within minutes or days of each other only an experienced tracker would be able to guess. Still, it’s fitting that their mid-December close encounter came within a few steps of a place designed to narrow the gap between man and nature-Maine Audubon Society’s L. Robert Rolde Nature Center at the 192-acre Fields Pond Sanctuary in Holden.

This building “symbolizes the beautiful harmony and unity between people and nature,” center director Judy Kellogg Markowsky told the nearly 250 people who attended the center’s grand opening on Dec. 13. 1998 The overflow crowd-more than twice the building’s capacity-watched ribbon-cutting ceremonies from an outdoor tent.

Like Maine Audubon’s other nature centers and sanctuaries, the Fields Pond center is an expression of the society’s mission to conserve Maine wildlife and habitat by providing ways for people to be involved in education and advocacy, said MAS Executive Director Thomas Urquhart.

It also specifically addresses Maine Audubon’s long-range goal of providing a focal point for its conservation efforts in northern and central Maine, said Urquhart, who described the Bangor-area facility as the realization of a decade-long dream.

“It allows us to become, in truth, the Maine Audubon Society,” he said. “Of course, Audubon has always offered programs statewide, but there is something about having a physical presence that makes a big difference. North of Augusta, people think Falmouth [where Maine Audubon has its headquarters] is a totally different world.”

Fields Pond was a “natural choice” for Maine Audubon to consider as it looked to “replicate what we have achieved in Falmouth-a site-based sanctuary and center that facilitates, invites, and allows people from surrounding communities to come and interact with nature,” said William Hancock, the society’s Environmental Centers director.

Less than 15 minutes from downtown Bangor, the L. Robert Rolde Nature Center is expected to serve the more than 200,000 people who live in the Greater Penobscot Valley and provide a home base for Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley, Schoodic and Downeast chapters.

The building was named to honor the late L. Robert Rolde, a successful Massachusetts builder and contractor who was born in Bangor around the turn of the century. Neil Rolde, a Maine writer and historian, told the audience that his father had a “great love for nature.”

“That love of nature never left him, and I got mine from him,” he said. Regarded by many to be one of the most beautiful nature sanctuaries in Maine, the land came to Maine Audubon in 1994, a bequest of the late Al and Katherine Curran, siblings who farmed the property and lived nearby until their deaths in 1992. Besides the large pond, with its 1,600 feet of shore frontage and 22-acre island, the preserve’s diverse ecosystem includes meadows, a variety of woodlands, a brook, wetlands, and a ravine that Judy Markowsky calls “the scenic highlight of the property.”

“It’s teeming with wildlife,” said Markowsky, who has been leading Maine Audubon’s “Secrets of the Forest” nature walks in the Bangor area for the past 10 years and working specifically on the Fields Pond project for the last two. As any wise naturalist should, Markowsky makes no promises of wildlife sightings, but she said, “Deer and wild fox are very frequently seen here. I found a bear track in a stream on Copeland Hill, and moose have been seen here, but not regularly.”

As for the new L. Robert Rolde Nature Center itself, at first glance it impresses more for what it is not.” The building is not a big ego statement of architecture, but something more friendly, more modest,” said Northport architect David Foley, who designed the building with his partner, Sarah Holland.

Traditional and rustic-looking with its tan cedar siding and dark green trim, the center is indeed a modest neighbor to the farmhouses that dot the rural Fields Pond Road on the Holden-Orrington town line. And yet, the 2,300-square-foot L-shaped building, which sits snugly in a rolling meadow overlooking Fields Pond, is a model for environmentally responsible construction.

“It’s important to us that when people think of a ‘green’ building that they don’t think of a science experiment,” Foley said. “It’s more important to us to say this is something anybody could do. We’re not into making big architectural statements. We’d rather that the quality of the building kind of sneak up on you, and you realize that you’re happy there.” Their priorities were on minimizing the building’s impact on the environment, rather than pursuing a few “cutting edge” green features, he said.

“To us the three most important things were, first, that the building be efficient to heat, cool, and light-to save energy,” Foley said. “We also wanted to use materials that didn’t look at a lot of habitat destruction. And, finally, neither of those things matter if you have a building that makes people sick, so we looked at the indoor health quality-good air flow, good light, good acoustics, a building that you feel comfortable in.”

Foley said he and Holland are particularly pleased with the way they were able to orient the building to take advantage of the stunning westerly views of the pond without sacrificing passive solar gain from the south. A treelike over the large multi-purpose room’s west-facing windows provides enough shade to keep the building from overheating in summer, while windows on the south side of the building are outfitted with a different kind of glass to soak up the sun’s warmth in winter.

When shopping for wood, Foley and Holland sought out a company with a good reputation for forest management, settling on the Seven Islands Land Company, whose northern forest land has been certified as well-managed. In general, wood was used in the most efficient manner possible throughout. For example, the interior maple trim was cut from both hard and sap wood, which is less wasteful than conventional methods. The trade-off is largely aesthetic. “To get a more consistent wood color, the sap wood is usually discarded or used in lower-end products,” Foley said. “This process makes more use of the tree. There’s more variation in the grain, but it uses the whole tree.” Foley and Holland also saved on wood by framing interior partitions with a light gauge steel. “That’s an example of something that’s green, but you wouldn’t think it is,” Foley said. The steel pieces, however, do the job with a minimum of materials and are easy to take apart and re-use if the building is renovated or remodeled in the future. Even the carpet and flooring were chosen with the environment in mind. The “good old-fashioned natural linoleum” flooring, made from linseed oil, wood flour, and natural jute, is far more durable than its petroleum-based vinyl imitators, Foley said. The carpet is fume-free.

The innovative insulation is a densely-packed cellulose, made from recycled newspaper. The nature center’s heating and ventilation systems are, Foley said, rather ordinary, but nevertheless “should provide good comfort for a minimum fuel cost because the building is so tight.”

A large lobby, the 84-seat multi-purpose room, and lots of glass give the center an airy, open feel. The building also has an exhibit area, a nature store, two small offices, two bathrooms, and a sizable kitchen for hosting public events. The architects, along with builder Mike Temple, also used the design to create outdoor spaces for Fields Pond visitors. The building’s L-shape, for example, makes a “sun trap” to the south, where a sheltered outdoor terrace will take the cool, breezy edge off spring and fall picnics.

They were particularly concerned about saving a large apple tree that is now the focal point of a bird-viewing area on the building’s north side. “The site has a way of telling you what to do, and you work with the site instead of going in and trying to dominate it,” Foley said.

With chickadees, cardinals and sparrows already paying visits, Judy Markowsky is now looking forward to the increase in human visitors that the nature center is expected to bring to Fields Pond. No longer will she have to rely on an “elaborate protocol” that had volunteers and visiting school groups anxiously eyeing the clouds for foreboding weather before heading out for a nature walk. “This way we can do the programs no matter what,” she said. The indoor space also allows naturalists to improve existing offerings with slides and mounts and to continue discussions that used to be cut off due to cold or rain.

But the building will serve primarily as a way of getting people involved in conservation issues. Already, volunteers from the Penobscot Valley Chapter, one of Maine Audubon’s most active chapters, have responded enthusiastically to the project by blazing the four trails that wind through the sanctuary and building stone steps in the steep but beautiful ravine. Where woods have overtaken old pastures, chapter members have removed more than a mile of barbed wire. The Orrington Garden Club landscaped the boat launch area, bringing it into compliance with state regulations and installing a gravel parking lot lined with rocks. Eagle Scout Justin J. Wright supervised the construction of a 300-foot cedar boardwalk over a wetlands area near the pond, and another Eagle Scout, Dan Lucier, carved the handsome wooden sign at the center’s entrance.

Area volunteers also have been crucial to the campaign to raise the $418,000 needed to build the center and establish a modest maintenance endowment, said Kent Taylor, Maine Audubon’s director of Development. The local fund-raising committee raised more than $120,000, and Taylor counts the Penobscot Valley Chapter among the project’s major contributors. In addition to the $150,000 contribution from the Rolde Family Foundation, other major gifts were given by the Jean and King Cummings Charitable Trust, the Lemforder Corporation, Bangor Savings, Bangor Publishing, L.L. Bean, Norcross Foundation, and G. Peirce Webber.

Thomas Urquhart believes the sanctuary will be an important component in fulfilling Maine Audubon’s mission. “We want to involve people in whatever way they feel comfortable,” he said. “For some people that could be stuffing envelopes. For others, it might be leading nature walks or standing up at a public meeting. Fields Pond very much provides that focus for community involvement.”