Monhegan Island: Jewel of the Sea, Maine

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14275A, 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, 2014
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, quiet atmosphere, unhurried pace, and the beauty of its wilderness. 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 to have 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 Sunday, 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. We will ride back to New Harbor on Saturday, 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, all are invited to an optional seafood lunch or an ice cream stop (not included in the trip price). It has become a nice tradition for saying our goodbyes.



Getting There

Our group ferry boat reservations and fees to and from Monhegan Island are included in the trip price and pre-arranged by the trip leader. Transportation to our meeting place in New Harbor, Maine is your responsibility. 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. Upon request, we are willing to provide possible ideas for pre-trip lodging (not included in trip price).

Accommodations and Food

Sleeping accommodations: Bed in a donated cottage or bring your own tent. If you are sleeping in a cottage, you will share a bedroom and you need to bring a sleeping bag and pillow. We will only sleep on top of the cottage bed/bedding to save our volunteer hosts from the expense and labor of laundry. Or, you may choose to pitch your own tent on the cottage’s lawn, overlooking the beautiful harbor, and be lulled by the ocean waves. Regardless where you plan to sleep, we will all share our very limited number of flush toilets and showers. Bring your own bath towel, soap, etc. All utilities on Monhegan are very expensive and limited. We will educate everyone on the specific conservation practices (including composting) used on the island.

Our menus are varied. Be prepared to eat meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. We also include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, coffee, tea, lemonade, etc. plus some appetizers, desserts, and snacks. Discuss any food/health dietary exceptions with the leader before making your trip reservation. Participants will prep meals, dishwash, collect trash, sweep, clean bathrooms, etc. on a rotating basis.

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. 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 cool nights, so come prepared. A very informative and complete list -- including all necessary equipment, field gear, and durable work clothing -- 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 sleeping bag. Tents must be tested at home as being waterproof 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. Tenters: add a sleeping pad and a tent with a full rainfly, poles, and stakes. Also Important: Bring a cheerful, willing and flexible attitude.




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. Conservation and historical talks by local people are planned. If you have special interest in a local or global conservation issue, you are invited to share with our group.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Faye Sitzman successfully led the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 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.


Christian O'Connor

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