Paper No. 20-8
Presentation Time: 4:10 PM
THE DESERT OF MAINE: A SMALL “DUST BOWL” IN FREEPORT
The Desert of Maine is a dynamic anthropogenic disturbance situated in a large exposure (about 1km at its widest point) of very well sorted, fine sand on what is now the northwestern border of Freeport, Maine. Accumulating through the action of post-glacial-retreat winds around 12,000 years ago, the deposit was quickly stabilized by forest succession and largely remained that way until the middle of the 19th century. Farming practices at the time of the Civil War led to the removal, by sheep, of the vegetative cover in several places, facilitating erosion that exposed and reactivated the sand at those spots. As the 1800s waned, this process continued and accelerated, and the farmland overlying the deposit was abandoned. Erosion continued apace, exposing more and more of the underlying sand. By the early 1900s, the disturbed area had grown to more than 100 acres (40 ha). Dunes had developed and were migrating to the east and to the southeast. In 1925, an enterprising local resident purchased the property and opened a tourist attraction, The Desert of Maine. As the primary expanse of sand was a massive sequence of dunes almost completely devoid of vegetation, to laypeople and casual tourists the geological phenomenon definitely resembled a desert in the middle of a coastal Maine forest. Beginning in the 1940s, the dune field started to shrink as the surrounding forest began to recolonize the exposed sand faster than erosional processes could increase it. By the dawn of the 21st century, the area of exposed sand had shrunk to less than 30 acres (12 ha), while novel plant communities continue to establish and replace one another in seral stages of post-disturbance ecological succession.