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Walking the bog: Peatland magic and carnivorous plants at 1-mile Orono Bog Boardwalk

Walking the bog: Peatland magic and carnivorous plants at 1-mile Orono Bog Boardwalk

two people walking boardwalk path through bog

I admit it. I don’t think about bogs much.

Up until a few days ago, my bog-related knowledge was limited to the hilariously gaseous and terrifyingly smelly Bog of Eternal Stench from 80s movie classic The Labyrinth.

Turns out, that bog is actually more swamp-like than bog-like (more on the differences between bogs and swamps and marshes and things called fens), but that’s a wetland reality I only came to understand recently. (And apparently worms don’t talk in real life either. Dang.)

My friend Melanie walks the boardwalk at the Orono Bog. Shannon Bryan photo
The boardwalk is made of 509 sections that are 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, as well as connector bridging at turns. Shannon Bryan photo

My bog curiosity was peaked recently following a visit to the Orono Bog Boardwalk in Orono.

Situated on the edge of the Bangor City Forest, the Orono Bog features a one-mile boardwalk loop trail that begins in forest and then strikes out over the peatland, the vegetation quickly transitioning from overhead tree cover to ground-level mosses. It’s super pretty, for starters, and the boardwalk itself is a bit of a marvel. (The idea was first prompted in 2000 by Professor Ronald B. Davis of Orono and the University of Maine, construction began in 2002, and it opened to the public in 2003. It’s constructed of 509 sections that are 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, as well as connector bridging at turns. Read more about how it was built.)

0ver 50 volunteers help to maintain the Boardwalk, guide tour groups, lead nature walks. Shannon Bryan photo
An arrow encourages visitors to follow the loop trail in a counter-clockwise direction. Shannon Bryan photo
Peatland! Shannon Bryan photo

The boardwalk is wheelchair friendly and there are benches along the way for visitors to sit and rest. It’s free and open to the public from May to October (opening day varies). You can even follow the Orono Bog on Facebook to stay apprised of activities there and what’s blooming. There are also a ton of really beautiful photos from the changing seasons).

There are interpretive stations along the boardwalk with information about the various habitats and wildlife, as well as the geologic history of the Orono Bog. Shannon Bryan photo
. The original Boardwalk took over 8 months to build by more than 100 volunteers, as well as the Maine Conservation Corps, carpentry crews from the Charleston Correctional Facility, and other groups. (Via umaine.edu) Shannon Bryan photo

So great, it’s a bog and it’s neat to look at. I suppose we could leave it at that. Except I’m starting to appreciate how incredibly interesting bogs are – and how peculiar.

For example, have you heard about bog butter? A few years ago a man found a 22-pound chunk of butter estimated to be more than 2,000 years old in an Irish bog. Turns out, finding really old butter in Irish bogs is not all that uncommon!

And then, of course, there are the 2,000-to-3,000-year-old “bog bodies” that have been discovered in raised peat bogs in Northern Europe. And by bodies they mean people.

Orono Bog Boardwalk. Shannon Bryan photo

Here in Orono, we’re not likely to pull barrels of thousand-year-old butter or thousand-year-old cadavers out of the bog. Sigh. But hey, the Orono Bog does have carnivorous plants!

One of them, the pitcher plant, was abundant during my early summer visit. My photo is not excellent.

A not-very-awesome photo of pitcher plant! Shannon Bryan photo

This photo is much better and shows the pitfall traps made of specialized leaves and filled with nectar to lure in prey, which usually consists of insects, spiders, and mites. Read more info about the carnivorous plants in the bog.

But lest ye start thinking the bogs are no-good places filled with butter and bodies and tricky trapping plants, it should also be noted that they’re totally underappreciated and important ecosystems.

“They are one of the harshest environments on the planet and also one of the most important in terms of carbon storage. New research hopes to reveal the role these threatened bogs could play in the climate change story.” Read more in this story from The Guardian: Ultimate bogs: how saving peatlands could help save the planet.

Thanks to the University of Maine, the City of Bangor, and the Orono Land Trust – as well as all the volunteers who work to maintain the boardwalk – for creating an accessible place for us to expand our bog knowledge.

Orono Bog Boardwalk

Open May-October
Free admission, donations appreciated
One-mile loop trail. Wheelchair accessible, benches along the way
No dogs
FMI: umaine.edu/oronobogwalk and www.facebook.com/OronoBogBoardwalk/

Shannon Bryan

Shannon Bryan

I don't like "exercise" any more than you do. But you know what I do like? Paddleboarding with a friend all afternoon (and then sitting in the grass to drink chardonnay). Bike rides and nachos, hikes, yoga classes held in breweries, group paddles to Fort Gorges, you get the idea. Because Maine is my gym.