Borestone Mountain Sanctuary in Elliottsville Township has for decades captivated legions of nature lovers, with its 1600-acre forest, three crystalline ponds, and breathtaking mountaintop views. Perhaps its most ardent fans, though, are a cadre of volunteers from the East Sangerville Grange in Dover-Foxcroft, who are also its most loyal caretakers. For more than 20 years (yes, 20 years!), these grangers have made it their mission to help maintain the preserve’s 100-year-old Adirondack-style log cabins, devoting countless hours of robust labor every spring and fall.
The chores they tackle are invaluable to Borestone Sanctuary’s manager Dan Simons. “They save me and my staff weeks of work,” Simons notes. “And because they have the institutional memory of the place after all these years, they help guide me when I need it, with how things should be done.”
To ready the lodges for summer renters, grangers arrive in May to prep the main lodge, the guide’s camp, the dining hall, the cook’s quarters—six buildings in all. They wash all the floors, windows and log walls; fill the woodboxes; inspect the fire alarms and extinguishers; haul all the library books, dishware, kitchen equipment, and linens from the mouse-proof storage shed; prep 22 beds; and hang 50 sets of curtains; curtains which Grange Grand Master and lead organizer Dyan McCarthy-Clark takes home and washes every winter.
They also tackle carpentry, painting, roofing— “a lot of physical improvements to the lodges,” explains long-time volunteer Alan Bray, who helped bush hog a trail a few years back, and served nine years on the Borestone board. “We’ve taken down trees, and we put the docks in the water and take them out, along with the boats in the fall. We do work that the staff would be pushed to do; they tackle more of the large projects.”
Dyan adds, “We’re like a portable ant hill, with lots of little ants running about. We make sure everything is ready, so that all the guests have to do is come in and enjoy. We also have a very skilled crew with a variety of talents, including foresters and carpenters. And grangers often help out with other projects during the season. Borestone managers know they can always call on us.”
Volunteers return in late October to close the cabins for winter, and they show up rain or shine. “We’ve been there in every kind of weather, when it’s spectacular and when the black flies have nearly carried some of us away,” laughs Dyan. “One October we had three to four inches of snow. We’ve been there when we had to break the ice on the pond to get through. We’ve been there when it’s bone-cracking cold, and you’re freezing even when you’re in your sleeping bag wearing your coat and hat and mittens. The treat of being able to stay overnight there is the payback. We have a ball and it’s very satisfying to know we’re helping.”
Steve Grammont has been helping to maintain the compound since before Maine Audubon took over stewardship from National Audubon in 2000, and often spends part of each weekend either up on a roof, or up to his waist in the lake dealing with the docks. He doesn’t regard any of the chores, or the sometimes less than comfortable conditions, as burdensome. Instead, like his comrades, he revels in their accomplishments and the sense of connectedness they all feel to Borestone. “It’s fun because a core of us have been doing this together for a very long time and we’ve developed this really great efficiency, where we each specialize in the tasks, but the knowledge is cumulative. Amongst us we have people with lots of skills that are compatible with taking care of these types of buildings. There are so many things to find joy in as we’re working with each other.
“The place still awes me,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be here, and we get to feel like we’re making a difference. How many things in your life can you say that about?”
It’s a labor of love,” echoes Rusty Willette, another longtime grange volunteer, who assists with kitchen chores. “The place is a jewel, just a jewel.”
Many of the grangers are in their 60s and 70s. Some are Maine natives, some transplants. “People have backgrounds in education, social work, agriculture, and all share a passion for nature,” says Alan, himself a well-known landscape painter. “It’s an eclectic and interesting group. There are always some younger volunteers too, often a few college-aged who are family or friends of grangers. The ‘kids’ get a lot out of it and they add a lot to the group; they bring the fun. We love inviting them, too, to see their reactions to Borestone.”
Steve observes, “Every time someone new comes, they have an immediate love for the place.”
Alexandra Conover Bennett, a past assistant manager at the sanctuary, cherishes the camaraderie. “It’s a group of fun-loving people, and when you work shoulder to shoulder, it really cements a friendship. We have fabulous conversations, working together. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my life have been in those lodges. And when you roll up your sleeves and work together, you come to love the place.”
Saturday evenings, hammers and mops are put aside and everyone gathers for a festive meal, created by Alan and John Curran and served up at the huge central table. “It’s an extraordinary feast,” Dyan raves. “Rivals anything in a five-star restaurant.”
Post-dinner, they assemble fireside for stories, games, much laughter, and music. “Always music,” says Dyan. “A lot of our members are musicians. “There are also a lot of backstabbing dominoes and cribbage games,” she adds.
Dyan sums it up by saying, “If there ever were a place that would help people to understand the importance of being good stewards, it’s Borestone. You’re immersed in nature, immersed in beauty. It puts a spell on you.”
—Written by Tina Fischer