Alexander/Crawford History

Town News

By John Dudley 

& Cassie Oakes




The land of New England was forested when Europeans arrived.  Over time they learned what forest soil would grow food and selected those places for fields.  As the population grew, marginal land was cleared then abandoned.  As news about the rich soils of Ohio spread, many, especially farmers on marginal land, moved west. Go west young man, go west!

What kind of forest will grow on abandoned farmland?  Last week’s article addressed abandoned farmland in Alexander and Washington County.

In 1912 Herman Chapman wrote “Forestry: An Elementary Treatise.”  He reminds us that trees reproduce by seeds (wind blown or animal scattered) or by sprouting (stump or root).  He writes of soil nutrients and moisture and how dense grasses growing in abandoned fields hinder tree reproduction by seed and allow more evaporation of moisture from the relatively unshaded soil.  We also know that plowed soil results in a layer of soil (the base of the plow zone) that roots can’t penetrate.  This is common especially in southern Maine.

So our conifers (pine, spruce, fir) don’t do well in reforesting the abandoned plowed fields.  Those that get established grow slowly because of the dry soil and shallow roots (especially in dry times like we experienced in June, July, August and September of 2017).  But the deciduous trees like beech, birch and maple reproduce by sprouting from stumps and poplar reproduces from root sprouting.  Hardwood will even sprout after fire kills the treetop.

On the Dudley Family Trust Tree Farm on the Pokey Road, the blueberry field that was abandoned in 1955 had lots of maple, birch and poplar harvested from it in 2013.  The sheep pasture that was abandoned in 1935 had the above hardwoods plus some fir harvested in 2013.

To see what our fields may look like in 2087, drive down the road from the Four Corners to Pokey Lake.  Seventy years ago to the east of the road just one half mile was forested (Lot 28) and on the west was all fields or pasture with three tiny exceptions.  And only seven occupied homes were seen on that two-mile stretch of road.

The 2006 Comprehensive Plan of Alexander in Part G speaks of scenic views of land, lakes and mountains that we see often and of open spaces for recreation.  East Machias recently set aside a side hill in town for sledding, a lot with a view that could have been sold as a house lot.  “Selectman “Bucket” Davis and his board are thinking of the future in many ways.  Our Comp Plan is on-line!