Along the roadsides of Maine, ancient apple trees are a regular reminder of our state’s rich agricultural past. Long before the first tourists came to swim the lakes, play the golf courses, or eat a famous lobster dinner, Mainers were planting apple seeds, selecting the best seedlings and grafting new varieties in their orchards.

While much of our agricultural history has disappeared, you can still see the apple trees lining many of our roads. Nowhere in Maine was orcharding more important than in the central part of the state, and no municipality was more important than the Kennebec County town of Belgrade.

Fifty-seven years ago I came to the Belgrade Lakes to swim, fish and sleep out under the stars. Before long I became intrigued about the region’s agricultural past. For over 40 years I’ve been tracking down Maine’s historic apples and the men and women who propagated them. That pursuit led me to Joseph Taylor, a Belgrade minister, farmer and apple breeder. Many of the ancient trees that still grow along the roads around the Belgrade Lakes are Taylor’s unique selections. We are currently in a race to track them down before they are gone forever. They are unknown anywhere else in the state or in the world. They are a national treasure.

Sadly, a number of these trees, not far from Taylor’s home, are marked to be cut down as the state “beautifies” Route 8/11 between Messalonskee and Great Pond. The trees are not close to the road. They pose no threat to traffic. Rather, they add beauty to the landscape and remind us of our past. Many of them possess qualities not found in any modern apples. They make excellent pies and sauce, they store well all winter and they add distinctive flavor to cider.

Rather than cut these trees down, we should be documenting, preserving and propagating our pomological heritage for future generations. There are groups in Maine who will prune and spiff up the old trees and make them productive for all of us to enjoy as we walk, bike or drive by. Let’s keep to old trees and celebrate Maine’s agricultural traditions forever.

John Bunker, of Palermo, is director of the Maine Heritage Orchard.

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