Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey pauses while hauling a discarded baitfish tank out of the woods in Hudson during Sunday's Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day. Credit: John Holyoke

HUDSON, Maine — Kevin Chessa admitted there’s a certain primal joy that comes along with sitting high in the cab of a front-end loader, squashing various pieces of debris that will then be hoisted into a dumpster.

But there are also some items that ought to be above demolishing.

“It’s always fun crushing stuff,” Chessa said Sunday, shortly after rendering an abandoned, rotting ice fishing shack into a pile of metal and soggy splinters. “But an ice house? I don’t like crushing ice houses.”

Crushing, demolishing and discarding was the order of the day on Sunday, as the Maine Warden Service and the Maine Forest Service combined forces to stage the fifth annual Landowner Appreciation Cleanup Day.

Over the previous four cleanups, about 1 million pounds of trash left in the woods has been removed by volunteers from a variety of civic and outdoor organizations.

“It’s an initiative to assist landowners who have been abused by chronic dumping of tires, white goods, TVs, computers, electronics — you name it,” said Game Warden Jim Fahey, who helped clean up a parcel in Hudson with area volunteers. “Statewide, there has been decades of abuse toward landowners that have actually, in some cases, still been providing access to their land for recreational purposes.”

Credit: John Holyoke

Many other landowners, however, have closed access to their land because of the trash left behind. In a state where 94 percent of the land is privately held, littering could be costly to those who depend upon the kindness of landowners in order to hunt, fish or hike.

Fahey said the program has made a difference, both in reducing trash in the woods and in generating goodwill.

“In some cases, I think there are landowners who’ve been assisted who have taken a different stance on access because of the cleanup effort,” Fahey said. “And now, some land that was previously unavailable to sporting men and women in Maine is available for different recreational activities.”

In Hudson, a group of volunteers did their part to clean up a piece of land that now belongs to the town.

Not that everybody dove in all that eagerly.

When Game Warden Kevin Anderson began handing out gloves to the volunteers, Kielie Gray of Hudson thought twice before accepting a pair.

“As long as there are no mice or snakes, I’ll help,” Gray said with a nervous laugh.

Anderson knew better than to make a guarantee — he’d already seen a full-grown mouse and a snakeskin inside the ice shack that Chess had squashed — so he handed a pair to Gray’s husband, Dean, instead.

A few minutes later, as he picked up pieces of the ice shack and tossed them into the bucket of a front-end loader, Anderson announced another discovery.

“Oh, there’s a baby mouse,” Anderson said, glancing at Kielie Gray. “There might be enough here for everybody to have one.”

Kielie Gray was not interested, and took two giant steps backward as Anderson walked by with the mouse, releasing it into a hedge nearby.

Fahey explained that the land being targeted for cleanup in Hudson is a bit different than parcels that often end up on the list as trouble spots that need attention.

The land volunteers cleaned on Sunday abuts the Hudson Fire Department. Years ago, it was part of a bait-farming operation, and the woods hold plenty of discarded items that needed to be removed so that visitors could better utilize the town-owned paths, which offer recreational access.

Much of the debris was hidden on Sunday. Later in the year, when the leaves fall from trees, it’s very obvious, Fahey said.

“What [the town] also acquired [with the land] was a couple of old fiberglass boats, a half a canoe, a truck cap, an old ice fishing shack, and infrastructure — like piping and tanks — from the old baitfish operation,” Fahey said. “They had been wanting to get this cleaned up, but it was cost-prohibitive. So it worked out well.”

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This story was corrected on Oct. 9, 2018, to reflect the correct spelling of Kevin Chessa’s name.

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...