My neighbor Ron LaRue heard a commotion down along the stream in his woodlot, so he checked it out. What he found astonished and angered him.
Four young men sat around a fire, drinking beer, their tent set up nearby, truck parked next a canoe. The road to this spot is gated, so Ron was mystified as to how they got in.
Calmly, he explained that they were trespassing and their fire was both illegal and a danger in this very dry season. He asked them to pack up and leave, which they did.
Later, Ron discovered they had looted split wood from his pile near the road and had driven in by clearing downed trees from an old trail. They had left a pile of empty beer cans and, under a bush, several dead largemouth bass. A real mess.
Ron had gotten the license plate number off the truck and later contacted the Maine Warden Service, as well as speaking to me about the incident.
I contacted Mark Latti, landowner relations coordinator at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and he arrived shortly thereafter with a game warden. We visited the site and the warden promised to track down the young men.
Ron did not want them to receive a summons. He just wanted the warden to explain to them the importance of asking permission to use private land, and using that land with respect.
Warden Lt. Gary Allen followed Ron’s request, tracked down the four young men, provided them with information about good landowner relations, issued them written warnings so there would be a record of their offense and explained that — thanks to Ron — they had escaped the severe penalties attached to convictions for criminal trespass. He essentially read them the riot act.
Allen told me that all four were headed for college this month, so I know they are capable of learning something from this episode. One of the young men told Allen he’d noticed Ron’s woodlot and the nice camping spot along the stream while snowmobiling last winter.
This will make many snowmobilers cringe, because they depend on trails across private land and emphasize the importance of maintaining good relationships with the private landowners who provide that access and opportunity.
One more thing, though. I think those young men also should have been required to participate in the Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day on Saturday.
Many snowmobilers and others who use and appreciate private land — and really, that’s all of us — will participate in this project led by Maine’s Forest Rangers, in partnership with the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, Maine Snowmobile Association and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Landowner Relations Program.
On this day last year, 100 tons of garbage, including more than 1,000 tires, were gathered from 136 illegal dumpsites. “It was just crazy,” said Jeff Currier, regional forest ranger for the Maine Forest Service.
Here’s why this is so important. Landowners who get dumped on — and that’s all of us who own land — often get so disgusted that they put up “no trespassing” signs. That means no trespassing for hikers, hunters, foragers, birders, snowmobilers, kayakers and everyone else.
I urge you to call the Forest Service, 800-750-9777, to volunteer for Saturday’s cleanup. Find more information at www.maineforestservice.gov.
Trash that’s been tossed onto my 150-acre woodlot has ranged from mattresses and air conditioners to beer bottles and fast food containers.
One day a few years ago, I filled eight large garbage bags but held onto a brochure from the Portland Museum of Art. I enjoyed reading that. I didn’t enjoy all the other trash.
If you are a conscientious recreationist who always asks permission to access and use private land, it may frustrate you to give up a Saturday to clean up the garbage of disrespectful slobs.
But please do it for all those private landowners who make your life — and our state — so special.
This effort may be all that stands between us and a “no trespassing” sign.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.