FREEPORT — In 2002, Freeport completed the acquisition of 167 acres of land at Florida Lake. With extensive trails and extremely valuable waterfowl habitat, the property is a hidden gem in the wilderness of the northern part of the town.

Nature and time, however, tend to take their toll on the structures people build in the wilderness. Florida Lake was no exception. In September 2014, the Coastal Journal highlighted some of the disrepair: Bog bridges rotting away, foot-bridges with large sections missing, paths that hadn’t been mowed at all.

Fast forward three years, and the Freeport Conservation Commission – who manage the property – have overseen concerted efforts to turn things around. Many lengths of bog bridge have been replaced by local volunteers, like local Boy Scouts working on projects or Freeport High School students performing volunteer work.

The effort has also received a $11,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program – a federal-aid assistance program aiming to help states maintain parks and trails. The town also gave $4,800 to aid in purchasing materials, according to Conservation Commission Chair Guy Blanchard.

Repairs are slightly behind the hoped-for schedule, according to Michael Stumbo. He is the property steward, and has overseen much of the work. “We were getting ready to do this major bog bridge last year, and somebody asked, ‘do we need a permit to do that,’ and indeed we did.”

Due to the nature of the land surrounding Florida Lake, the organization needed permission from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to do any work.

“Part of the reason we need a permit is it’s what the DEP calls a ‘critical waterfowl habitat,’ and that pretty much says it’s going to be low and marshy in a lot of places,” said Stumbo, who was chosen as the property steward after he went out and cataloged a lot of the repair that was necessary. So far, several parts of the property have been fixed up.

“It’s been an ongoing process. There was a Scout troop in Brunswick that built a long section of bog bridge,” he said. “Probably 2014 or ‘15, that same Scout troop built another major bog bridge on kind of the northwest edge of the lake.”

Boy Scout Troops have built a number of substantial bog bridges at Florida Lake, but many more are needed to create a robust trail system. Staff photo by Chris Chase

Another troop built a different section of bridge in the southwest corner of the property. A pair of high school students then built some on the northern part of the lake.

Soon, another phase of the project – using some of that grant money – is going to take place. The commission is seeking volunteers for a work day on Friday, when old decaying bridges will be taken down. Then, L.L.Bean is assisting with the repairs on Sept. 16, bringing in volunteers and materials to repair the structures.

“We do as much as we can to support all the natural resources that we have in the area,” said Bill Yeo, Outdoor Discovery School retail manager with L.L.Bean and the person managing the company’s efforts at Florida Lake.

The plan is to remove the heavy, rotting hemlock beams. “We’ll cut it apart with a chainsaw and try to haul it out. Extra hands are nice to have,” said Yeo. Then, crews will go in to replace all of the bridges with new ones. In total, 100 feet of bridge will be replaced.

Broken bog bridges like this one are posing a hazard to anyone who ventures out on the trails at Florida Lake. Staff photo by Chris Chase

While the bridges are slowly being replaced, the biggest change that has improved usability is regular mowing of the property. Before, Freeport Public Works was tasked with the job, but due to time constraints had a hard time getting around to it. Eventually, they allowed the commission to hire someone.

“That’s opened up a nice section of trail on the north end of the lake,” said Stumbo.

Volunteers have also walked around the lake to map all the trails with a GPS mapping system to determine where the area would need bog bridges. Plus, there’s the matter of marking trails clearly, something Stumbo said another Scout group might do.

Not to mention the beaver problem. A pair of culverts have been dammed up by some industrious beavers, which is going to lead to some flooding issues if it isn’t handled. The plan is to create a “beaver deceiver,” which changes the flow of the water to discourage the creatures from building dams.

While the scale of the work ahead is high, Stumbo is confident that with the new grant and volunteer efforts, Florida Lake can be turned into a stellar example of public conservation. “We’re finally making some progress,” he said.

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