Local company builds boardwalk for a bog

NW dd14 PHOTO for Great Northern Dock story

Elaina Merriam, the daughter of Dawn and Sam Merriam, who own Great Northern Docks, enjoys some fresh air at the Orono Bog Boardwalk last year. (Photo courtesy of Great Northern Docks)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — One would think that building an 850-foot boardwalk would require manhandling the materials, but the employees at Great Northern Docks handled each section, each weld, with kid gloves.

This winter, an entire room was dedicated to displaying the blueprints of the boardwalk project. In December, the shop behind Great Northern Docks’ storefront was bustling with activity. The fabrication of 105 8x4-foot sections of boardwalk needed to be wrapped up and on the truck to Orono, Maine, before the New Year.

The job was completed before Christmas.

According to Shop Foreman Paul Hargreaves, every person who worked on the project assumed a sense of ownership. Individuals would point out to him when something was below standard and needed to be improved, he said.

Nobody was dismayed that the boardwalk project would cut into their Christmas shopping time, he said. Instead, they treated the task and the timeline like an exciting challenge, he said.

After all, the client is University of Maine (UM); and, the cost of the completed product is $200,000.

Through the bid process, the university had hired Great Northern Docks to fabricate almost 1,000 feet of boardwalk built for a bog.

NW dd12 GNdock SKETCH_like this one

With a boardwalk sketch in hand, Paul Hargreaves recently poses next to a milling machine at Great Northern Docks. (De Busk Photo)

It required a lot of hands on deck.

Bob Topping and Hargreaves did much of the welding. On the assembly team were: Tom Lee, Tony Morrison, Ken Richardson, Dave Ring, Sue Smith, and Rich Hodson.

Steve Merriam assumed the role of project engineer and planner. He said UM contacted him about three years ago with the prospect of replacing sections of its one-mile-long walkway through the Orono Bog.

“I’ve been there several times, crawled on my hands and knees and measured every inch of the walkway,” Steve Merriam said.

The stakeholders at UM not only had before them the prospect of replacing aging sections of boardwalk in a timely manner, but also they hoped to get a product that resolved some issues with the current walkway.

According to Merriam, he was faced with a couple of interesting challenges; and the majority of those were presented by the terrain.

“When the thaw comes, the docks would thaw out on the sunny side first, and remain frozen on the other side,” he said.

The uneven thawing of the bog caused the boardwalk to be off kilter.

“We made the entire walkway adjustable,” Merriam said, adding, “Some places have floats; other sections have solid footing, which is a composite material.”

“The substrate is peat moss. There are a couple of different types of peat moss. There is a woody peat moss, which is more firm. There is softer peat moss — it does not have much tree growth, and doesn’t have wood in it,” he said.

“It is a sponge — a very deep sponge. In some areas, it is firm and the boardwalk could be supported. In other areas, it had to be floating,” he said.

A dock on a floating bog will handle differently than a dock that is floating in water. So, his plans took that into account.

Also, because “the peat is exceptionally acidic, we had to adjust for the chemistry of the water,” Merriam said.

Stainless steel, rather than aluminum, was the material used to reinforce the composite footing, he said.

The project had to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. The boardwalk had to continue to be a wheelchair-friendly structure.

“Every day, people with special needs access the boardwalk,” he said.

Merriam described the area that draws people from mid-May through the end of October.

“I do a lot of hiking. This is a very unique place,” he said.

“After you go through a wooded area, it opens up. The real surprise is when you get out there, it opens up to a phenomenal view,” he said.

“There are acres and acres of sponge moss where the trees don’t grow tall. It reminds me of the tundra,” he said.

“The colors are vibrant. There are a lot of red hues. Early in the spring, there is wild orchid that is unique to the peat,” he said.

Merriam worked closely with Jim Bird, the Orono Bog Boardwalk director.

The idea of silver aluminum railing deterring from the bog’s beauty was shunned.

“We powder-coated it so it blended in with the natural environment. It was quite a process to get down the color they wanted. It was between brown and gray,” Merriam said.

Luckily, Merriam has a good excuse to visit the bog again when the Conservation Corps installs the new boardwalk.

“I feel it is best to custom-fit my designs. There are angular changes in the walkway. We designed it to be adjustable, to allow them to make minor adjustments, up and down, left and right,” he said.

There are about 30 to 35 wedges, or triangular sections, that Merriam plans to use to bridge together the 8x4-foot sections of boardwalk.

“I have one step left,” he said.

That comes after a few years of making prototypes and almost seven weeks of fabrication work in the shop.

“What is really fun about Great Northern Docks is the group of individuals who work here. They take pride in their work. They are craftsmen who make high quality projects,” Merriam said.

For the Orono Bog project in particular, “they cleared out a room to have a planning room. They had the drawings all over the wall. They named it. They had everything laid out so they could see. They tackled it all and got it out on the truck on time,” he said.

His brother and owner, Sam Merriam, said this recent undertaking illustrates that the staff at Great Northern Dock are “people in our community who are dedicated to quality workmanship while performing under the pressure of deadlines.”

For more information about Great Northern Dock, go to greatnortherndocks.com. To learn more about the Orono Bog Boardwalk, check out the website, www.oronobogwalk.org

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