Driving north on Route 1A from Ellsworth, most motorists are intent on a mission. Tourists may be headed to Acadia National Park while locals may be bound for a sports event or on a major shopping expedition.
Passing through Holden, folks might consider turning onto Copeland Hill Road and making the Fields Pond Audubon Center their destination or part of their day’s journey.
Open year-round, the sanctuary provides a respite from the distracting gadgets, ringtones and buzzes, of modern life.
The calls of loons can be heard from the 85-acre Fields Pond and the songs of warblers and other birds fill the air in the 210-acre preserve inhabited by foxes, bobcat and other wildlife. Depending on the season, lupine, buttercup, daisies, goldenrod and other wildflowers put on a show in the fields.
Donated to Maine Audubon by the late Katherine Curran in 1994, the Curran family originally raised dairy cows there, harvested ice from the pond and cut wood from the forest.
Maine Audubon established the Fields Pond Audubon Center and opened the L. Robert Rolde Nature Center, which has a small bookshop, kitchen and rest room. The facility helps make the sanctuary not only a fun place to visit, but a great place to learn.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity, we have this classroom space and then outside we have this classroom space,” said Cyndi Kuhn, a former schoolteacher and Fields Pond’s center coordinator and the lead educator there. “It’s really dynamite.”
Kuhn explained that a central part of Maine Audubon’s and Fields Pond’s mission is to educate people about nature, in hope that they might learn to appreciate and care for it. Local schools, Boy Scout groups and programs for kids with developmental disabilities venture there on field trips to experience and explore nature.
Kuhn said that the center takes a minimalist approach to outdoor education. Instead of cluttering the landscape with signs and placards, most of the information about the animals and plants are concentrated in the nature center. That philosophy goes back to the center’s founding director, Judy Kellogg Markowsky.
“Her philosophy of minimal interpretation provides opportunity for one to interpret their surroundings themselves,” Kuhn said. “It opens the figurative door for someone to learn more at their pace.”
Kuhn said that the best part of her job is when she sees a visitor fall in love with nature.
“There’s usually some sort of shift in their comfort zone,” she said. That shift might happen when someone makes physical contact with a leaf or an insect, or when they learn to be OK with dirt brushing up against their pants leg. If she starts to hear a lot of questions, she knows the shift has happened.
“Youngsters will ask more questions about the thing that they want to know more about of course!” she said, adding that adults do the same thing. “Oftentimes it becomes ‘What can I do?’ ‘How can I help?’ To hear those words, we know that they’ve fallen in love. Something has caused an emotional response and they want to do more.”
Kids aren’t the only ones feeling that way at Fields Pond. Adults come to Fields Pond for staff retreats, or through trips with the Downeast Outing Club.
In early spring, the center has hosted classes with the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The program is a 12-month course in identifying birds, plants, mammal scat and skulls, insect orders, rocks and other elements of Maine’s natural history. The goal is to educate citizens who will then volunteer their time teaching others at land trusts or nature centers such as Fields Pond.
“One of the things that amazes us all is that, being around each other, everybody has the same curiosity about these things,” said Donne Sinderson, an Orrington resident and certified naturalist who helped mentor a geology class at Fields Pond.
Sinderson explained that the group of 20 or so students formed a shared Google Drive where they can post pictures of plants or animals and help each other identify the species in them.
“It’s like we’ve found our group, our people,” she said.
Though Master Naturalist classes are held in different locations every year, Sinderson said that Fields Pond is ideal because of its indoor classroom space and outdoor sanctuary.
“In the past we’ve gone on field trips, but at Fields Pond we were able to do all our field work there,” she said.
As an avid nature-lover Sinderson might have been there anyway. She said she enjoys kayaking in the pond or hiking on the five miles of trails.
“It’s a very cool place,” she said.
As beautiful as Fields Pond is, Kuhn hopes that fans of the sanctuary will take their love of nature home with them.
“One of our themes at Maine Audubon is take it home,” she said “Don’t break a twig and take it home, take that emotion and transfer it into your backyard, through native plantings or planting a shrub to encourage more birds to visit your yard, those kind of things.”
The Fields Pond Audubon Center’s calendar is full of free events and training sessions. A big rule is not to bring pets. The scents of dogs or other domestic animals can interfere with the habitat and habits of wildlife such as bobcats.
The Fields Pond Audubon Center is located at 216 Fields Pond Road in Holden. For more info, call 989-2591, email [email protected] and visit www.maineaudubon.org.