By Amy Chapman
For nearly a year, the Arthur L. Mann Library in West Paris has been celebrating every aspect of the Maine woods, offering programs to promote awareness of our forests’ historic and ongoing role in industry, recreation, art, and literature.
Snowshoeing on local trails, exhibits of paintings and photographs, and free evening events with a professional forester and an author of historical books about the Maine woods have all been included in the library’s special programming.
The events are part of a year-long initiative called “Celebrate the Maine Woods!” which was launched last year by the nonprofit Maine Woods Forever.
The Celebrate the Maine Woods! website encourages collaboration among educators, artists, writers, historians, conservationists, and those affiliated with the recreation and wood products industry, in order to “deepen the understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of Maine’s forests and woodlands for all their uses and values.”
The Maine State Library urged public libraries in Maine to become active participants in the Celebrate the Maine Woods! program, and, especially, to work with schools to increase students’ awareness of the role the forests play in Maine’s history and culture.
Although there was no public funding available to support participation, Patty Makley, librarian at West Paris, stepped up to the challenge.
With help from the Friends of West Paris Library, Makley organized a committee with representation from the library, the Agnes Gray Elementary School, the West Paris Historical Society, and the Maurice G. Benson Forest, a 182-acre managed parcel protected under a conservation easement donated by the Benson family.
Together, the group planned activities and events throughout the year, including a snowshoeing program at the school that was open to the public, using equipment loaned by the Western Foothills Land Trust.
The Friends of West Paris Library purchased a community pass to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. It entitles library patrons and their families to a deep discount on the price of admission when visiting the park, which will remain open for the season until Nov. 11.
In March, forester Don Feeney spoke to a full house about managing woodlands and identifying issues that threaten the health of the forest, including invasive species like the Asian longhorn beetle and the hemlock woolly adelgid.
A crowd also turned out in May to hear Dean Bennett discuss his book Nature and Renewal, about the Wild River Valley and the lost community of Hastings.
An exhibit of photographs of old-time logging provided by the Bethel Historical Society opened in conjunction with West Paris Old Home Days in June and continues through September. In July, Clifton Jackson narrated a well-attended slide show of the photos.
Upcoming events include a basket-weaving demonstration on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. by Julie Daye of Norway and Florida. Daye uses the needles of the long leaf pine, growing in the southeastern U.S., to create her unique baskets, which will be on display throughout September.
In October, Auburn artist Michael Everett will display his oil paintings. Everett, who is also a Registered Maine Guide, will give an evening talk at the library on a date to be determined. According to his website, his paintings are “a way to recapture memorable scenes from travels in northern Maine, mostly canoe trips in the region of the Allagash and Saint John Rivers.”
The annual “Get Ready for Winter” book sale will be held at the West Paris Historical Society, across the street from the library, on October 11 and 18 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. October 18 will feature a “buck a bag” sale.
Thanks to a loan from the Maine State Library, Makley said the West Paris Library currently has a special collection of about 40 books about the Maine woods available for patrons to borrow throughout the fall. The volumes cover a range of topics, from art and poetry to history and adventure.
The collaborative work in West Paris has not gone unnoticed. When The Maine TREE (Timber Research and Environmental Education) Foundation invited schools to build the theme of “Celebrate the Maine Woods!” into their curricula, the West Paris Library’s program was singled out for accolades.
The Maine TREE Foundation’s letter encouraged schools to form partnerships with the timber industry and with other local organizations to enrich the educational experience, and added, “One such example is underway in West Paris, where the librarian is involving the nearby elementary school, the historical society, and land trust in a four-way collaboration that has the community buzzing.”
Kathleen Jackson of the Friends of West Paris Library said the Celebrate the Maine Woods! committee is still meeting monthly to come up with new ideas to extend the celebration. They hope to make the community snowshoeing program an ongoing winter event and will continue to plan other events to raise awareness about the importance of Maine’s forests.
For more information about the Celebrate the Maine Woods! initiative, visit the website, mainewoodsforever.org.