LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve — well worth a visit

After spending the summer clearing the trails at Holt Pond Preserve, volunteer Ryan Curtis feels this is his second home. (Photo by Maverick Roy)

After spending the summer clearing the trails at Holt Pond Preserve, volunteer Ryan Curtis feels this is his second home. (Photo by Maverick Roy)

By Leigh Macmillen Hayes

Special to The News

I hope you will make time to pass under the hemlocks, beeches and oaks and into the wild and delicate beauty that the Holt Pond Preserve on the Bridgton/Naples town line offers.

The preserve was created by Lakes Environmental Association, beginning with an initial purchase of 30 acres in 1971. Today, it encompasses 400 acres, including the 25-acre pond. Holt Pond is one of the last undeveloped water bodies in the Lake Region, making its protection significant.

Designed as an outdoor classroom, the preserve is used throughout the year for school programs and many of LEA’s public education walks.

Head down the trail and you’ll soon realize that the habitat keeps changing — from hemlock groves to red maple swamps to alder thickets to a quaking bog.

No trip here is complete without taking time to pause along the boardwalk that extends across a sphagnum moss mat supporting the quaking bog, where carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews grow among bog rosemary, cranberries, leatherleaf and sheep laurel. Wild orchids such as rose pogonia, grass pink and horned bladderwort also bloom here.

Via snowshoes or cross-country skis in winter, it’s easy to search for mammal tracks — look for evidence of a wide variety because this area is an important piece of a wildlife corridor.

The entire trail system that surrounds the pond is about five miles long. This summer, Ryan Curtis donated his time to make the trails more user-friendly.

Soon, he will enter his senior year at the University of New Hampshire, where he’s completing a forestry degree. His program calls for 400 hours of an internship — paid or volunteer time. Last spring, he thought he was going to work for an arboriculture company, but that opportunity fell through. Within two weeks of calling Peter Lowell, executive director of LEA, Curtis was on the trail as a full-time volunteer.

Besides using a weed trimmer and loppers, two jobs that Curtis soon realized needed to be completed every few weeks, he’s fixed trail signs, cut downed trees, adjusted and fixed boardwalks, placed new arrows at key points to guide hikers, and learned about the flora and fauna of the preserve.

One special niche he opened is the dedication stone previously hidden among overgrown trees and shrubs. Curtis cleared the way, making it obvious from the main trail that there is something to view. He added wooden steps and planted shade-tolerant flowers below the plaque to honor those who made the preserve possible.

I walked with Curtis last week while he showed off the work he has completed. As a trail steward of one small section, I truly appreciate all that he has accomplished to make this a welcoming path.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said. “I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’d blaze through with a trimmer. Instead, it’s been a lot of walking and a lot of time alone. It makes you stronger. I’ve never taken on such a big project. I guess I jumped into the deep end first. After week three, it got easier.”

Though he’s taken some courses in forest ecology and has learned about clearing trees and preserving the ecosystem, he realized early on that he needed to hike trails at other locations to get a better understanding of what they looked like so he knew how to proceed.

Typically, he’s worked six to seven hour days, six days a week. From time to time, his family or friends pitched in, but none of them live in the area so they weren’t available to help on a regular basis.

Curtis hails from Laconia, N.H., but his grandparents, Sylvia and Bill Webster, own a camp on Highland Lake in Bridgton. During the week, Curtis is there alone, a first for him, and they join him on weekends.

He credits his grandfather for teaching him the skills necessary to complete this work.

“My grandfather has been teaching me everything I need to know about woodworking. ‘Measure twice, cut once’ is what he would say,” Curtis said.

And, he credits this experience for creating a lasting bond with his grandparents. He’s come to value not only the skills they’ve taught him, but also the time spent together either on the trail or back at camp.

Curtis has also developed an obvious bond with the preserve, which he’s come to know intimately.

“It’s been a godsend,” he said. “A blessing to be able to work here. It’s mentally preparing me for the future. This place turned into my second home in Bridgton. I’ve learned so much more than I have in years.”

His goal is to surpass the 400-hour mark in his final weeks at the preserve. Curtis looks forward to showing if off when his extended family visits and he’s already talking about returning to do some more work on weekends after school begins.

Holt Pond Preserve is like that. Visit soon and I think you’ll discover that it keeps calling you back.

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