April 06, 2020

New map displays Maine Ice Age Trail Guide shows glacial evidence on landscape

ORONO – University of Maine researchers unveiled a new map Monday that they hope will draw history and geology buffs to rural, coastal Maine as well as foster a better understanding of the effects of climate change.

Maine’s new “Ice Age Trail” map and guide offers visitors a self-guided tour of the geologic legacy left behind in Down East Maine by the enormous glaciers that once buried all of the state under 1.5 miles of ice, snow and debris.

The map, which was produced largely by faculty in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute with federal funding, features 46 stopping points from Acadia National Park to Lubec where the last ice age left its marks on the Maine landscape.

The accompanying text also explains how some of coastal Maine’s most iconic features – such as expansive blueberry barrens, salt marshes and boulder-strewn fields – were formed by the glaciers.

“There is nothing like this in the whole United States,” Harold Borns, a UMaine professor emeritus, said of Maine’s glacial evidence.

More than five years in the making, the map project was spearheaded by Borns and others at the university’s Climate Change Institute in large part to help spur tourism in Hancock and Washington counties.

Officials attending Monday’s unveiling, including Gov. John Baldacci, also praised the map for helping fuel youth interest in math and science.

Massive continental ice sheets began advancing across the Northeast about 35,000 years ago during the last of several glaciation periods during the Pleistocene era.

The ice sheets at their maximum extended about 400 miles into the Gulf of Maine. But global temperatures began rising about 21,000 years ago, and the ice began to retreat to the coast of Maine between 17,000 and 18,000 years ago.

All of Maine, except two large swaths in the north, were glacier-free by about 12,000 years ago. The vast, treeless tundra left behind by the glaciers was prime habitat for such creatures as woolly mammoths. Fossilized walrus skulls that have been dug up in Maine also offer clues to the state’s glaciated past.

But the massive ice sheets left plenty of evidence visible today in Maine’s landscape.

For instance, Cadillac Mountain still bears the scars of rocks and debris embedded in the glaciers grinding over the bedrock. Fossilized shells dating back 16,000 years can be found in marine clay in Milbridge that was deposited by glaciers in an Arctic-like ocean.

Sandy soils deposited by glaciers in eastern coastal Maine now grow wild blueberries. Drivers on Route 9 near Aurora, meanwhile, can enjoy views of the surrounding bogs thanks to a roadbed that climbs an esker of sand and gravel left by a tunnel at the bottom of an ice sheet.

Borns said Down East Maine offers some of the best examples of glacial evidence in the country and a great record of the end of the last ice age.

“It started out as a fun project because the [glacial] deposits were so beautifully displayed … but it turned out to be globally significant in the long run,” Borns said.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, the university printed an initial run of 10,000 copies of the maps to be distributed for free throughout Hancock and Washington counties through partner organizations.

Project organizers hope eventually to begin selling copies of the maps in bookstores and other venues statewide and nationwide next year.

They got a boost in their national awareness campaign Monday when U-Haul International unveiled one of 1,200 moving trucks that will be decorated with a “SuperGraphic” promoting the Ice Age Trail. The graphic depicts a tusked walrus above text describing the landscapes of Maine telling a unique story of a “past world unknown” once hidden beneath the ice sheets.

The graphic is part of U-Haul’s “Venture Across America” campaign highlighting little-known facts about North America.

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