Monhegan Island: Jewel of the Sea, Maine

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13269A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help preserve one of Maine's unspoiled treasures
  • Hike the island's headlands and extensive trail network
  • Explore the galleries of the vibrant local art community


  • All meals
  • All group cooking gear and tools
  • Transport to and from the island


DatesJun 8–14, 2013
StaffFaye Sitzman

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Monhegan is a small, rocky island 10 miles off the coast of Maine, measuring scarcely a square mile in area. It is accessible only by boat, and there are no cars or paved roads. In recent times, the year-round population has seldom exceeded 75. For more than 100 years, Monhegan has been a summer haven for artists and other visitors who appreciate its isolation, the beauty of its wilderness, its quiet atmosphere, and its unhurried pace. The unoccupied island areas, called the Wildlands, make up about 80 percent of the island. These are almost entirely owned by the Monhegan Associates, a land trust created by Theodore Edison, son of inventor Thomas Edison. About 17 miles of trails, often steep and strenuous, lead through wooded areas and over rocky ledges up to some of the highest ocean cliffs on Maine's offshore islands.

We plan on having a "layover" day, which may be used to hike to the island's spectacular viewpoints, spend time at the lighthouse, schoolhouse or museum, visit the galleries of local artists, or just relax. There is no formal entertainment such as golf or tennis on the island.  However, there is a small swimming beach for those who enjoy being in 50-degree water.

The Project

The fact that Monhegan is an island makes it an ideal research site -- Monhegan Associates sponsored a study of forest health there by the University of Maine. The university's research has shown that several invasive plants threaten the island's fragile ecosystem -- the most potentially damaging being Japanese barberry. Introduced during the last century by homeowners, it is being spread by birds that eat its brilliant red berries in the fall. We will work on cutting, applying a regrowth deterrent, and hauling out this or other invasive species. We may also work on trail maintenance. Any group trip in the outdoors involves adventure and unpredictability! We will plan to work for a minimum of four full days and have one layover day to rest, explore, and enjoy the island.


Trip participants should plan to meet the morning of Saturday, June 8th in New Harbor, Maine. Specific time and location will be provided to approved participants. If you are flying, it's best (in terms of time and price) to fly into Portland, Maine. The leader will send detailed directions to the meeting place to all approved participants.

The sun rises early on Monhegan, and so does our cook.  Early morning coffee on the deck overlooking the harbor is a real treat! Expect to be dressed for trail work, and have your day's lunch packed, your water bottles filled, and your assigned group chores done prior to our group breakfast. We will leave together to our work site early each day. Once at the work site, be physically and mentally prepared to do fairly intense work in about one hour increments, with fun and relaxing short breaks in between. At lunch time, we sometimes choose a scenic spot to enjoy and relax before starting our afternoon work. At the end of our work day, we head back to clean and prepare our work tools for the next work day, then enjoy appetizers and beverages before dinner. Often we will invite an Islander to share interesting stories and facts about the Island and local folks.

The trip will end after our ferry ride back to New Harbor on Friday, June 14th. While the scheduled return time is just before noon, sea conditions and other unexpected events may cause delays so plan a flexible departure time. After our ferry ride, please consider joining us for an optional seafood lunch at a local restaurant (not included in the trip price). It has become a nice tradition for saying our goodbyes.



Getting There

The ferry rides to and from Monhegan are included in the trip price. Participants are responsible for getting to and from New Harbor. However, the leader will encourage carpooling and provide a list of drivers willing to take passengers and participants requesting rides. Other options: 1) take public bus service from Portland to Damariscotta, Maine and arrange for a ride the last 12 or so miles to New Harbor, 2) use a car service from Portland to New Harbor or, 3) rent a car and offer rides to other participants coming from Portland's jetport.

Accommodations and Food

Sleeping accommodations: Cottage bedrooms will be shared and you need to bring a sleeping bag and pillow as we will only sleep on top of the bed/bedding to save the host from the expense and labor of laundry.  Or, you may choose to pitch your own tent on the cottage's lawn that overlooks the harbor.  Regardless where you choose to sleep, there are three flush toilets and three showers for our group to share.  All utilities on Monhegan are very expensive and limited. We will educate everyone on the specific conservation practices (including composting) used on the island.

Because the trip menu is planned weeks before we arrive, it is imperative, before you make a deposit for this trip, to check with us if you have any dietary needs. Though meat is included in some meals, we will accommodate non-meat eaters if given advanced notice. Our trip cook purchases and plans most of the food for all our meals prior to leaving the mainland. She provides us with a reasonable amount of fruits and vegetables, hearty main dishes at dinner, non-alcoholic beverages (fruit juice, lemonade, coffee, tea etc.), and occasionally a homemade dessert. Our hot breakfasts are varied and substantial. Lunches are often a build-your-own sandwich, veggies, and a piece of fruit. You are also offered break-time snacks (granola bars, cookies etc.) to tuck into your pack while you make your lunch. All trip members will be assigned, on a rotating-basis, to assist with cooking and kitchen clean up.

Trip Difficulty

During the course of our work, we may be hiking several miles a day on hilly, uneven terrain, and will be exposed to the elements, so good field clothing, raingear, and sturdy boots are a must. Our work will mostly consist of using hand loppers and hand saws to cut down prickly invasive shrubs and hauling your cuttings to a group brush pile. Expect to provide excellent raingear (no ponchos or plastic raingear), sturdy hiking boots, leather work gloves, and a sleeping bag. Some previous trip participants have underestimated the difficulty of our service work, so feel free to ask questions of the leader before submitting your application and deposit.

Equipment and Clothing

At this time of year, Maine can be either spectacularly sunny or very wet and foggy with cold nights, so come prepared. A very informative and complete list of all necessary tenting, field gear, long-sleeved work shirts and long pants for work clothing, and equipment will be provided by the leader soon after she knows you are interested in this specific trip. Expect to provide excellent raingear (no vinyl and no ponchos), sturdy hiking boots, leather work gloves, and a sleeping bag. If you choose to tent, you will also need to bring a sleeping pad, and tent (or arrange to share, borrow or rent one before you leave home). Tents must be tested at home for waterproofness and must have a full rainfly. Tools are provided by Monhegan Associates. Sturdy chaps, long welder's gloves, and other protection from the thorny barberries are preferred by some.




For more than 50 years, Monhegan Associates has been an organization whose mission is "to preserve and protect the wild lands, educate the public about them, and support the simple, friendly way of life on the island." The year-round population is also very active in fishing conservation issues and in strategies to maintain an economically viable island community. A talk by a local lobsterman is planned for us one evening.



Faye Sitzman successfully led the 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 Monhegan Service trips and has been active in many leadership aspects of the Sierra Club since 1974. She has been a life-long educator and wilderness traveler. Perhaps her most adventurous experiences include bicycling Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, sea kayaking in Alaska's Glacier Bay, Misty Fjords, and Admiralty Island, the Everglades, the Rio Grande, the Great Lakes, the Maine Island Trail, and Greenland's west coast above the Arctic Circle. She has organized service outings and many other environmental projects. Faye has also led many backpack outings, river trips, and especially loves leading in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. Previous trip participants have described Faye as a "truly competent wilderness leader with a special knack for keeping people from getting unnecessarily serious."


Susan Ziering has been active in co-leading and cooking for various Sierra Club trips for over 10 years. She has prepared fabulous meals in kitchens and campsites, enjoys relating to her daily kitchen crew and is a creative presence in the kitchen. Susan is well organized and a champion at planning menus plus a few nice surprises that really please. Also a long-time educator, Susan contributes to interesting and fun conversations. She's been our Monhegan Island trip cook for many years.

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