Our Bushcraft And Sustainability Field School is located on 83 acres in Masardis, Maine on the banks of the Aroostook River. Masardis is in Aroostook County, the northernmost county in Maine and larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Known as “The County”, it’s an area where the moose and black bears outnumber the people. Surrounded by Canada on three sides, it’s a boreal forest biome characterized by thick woods and northern plant species.
Our camp is rustic. Drinking water comes from a hand pump and we’ve got no electricity other than what’s generated on-site. With a campsite on the river and and one in the woods, it’s a perfect place for those seeking an authentic north woods experience.
Directly across the only paved road on our side of the river is the North Maine Woods, a large (3.5 million acre), uninhabited working forest. It’s about 90 miles due west through working forest to the Canadian border. In that space there is no pavement, no towns, and no permanent residents.
The Aroostook River is the main artery of the area, and gives us water access to it’s headwater lakes, St. Croix Stream, the Blackwater River, the Big Machias River, Munsungan Stream, Millinocket Stream, Mooseleuk Stream and Squapan Lake and stream. The Aroostook crosses into New Brunswick and joins the St. John River, which empties into the Atlantic at St. John, New Brunswick.
We’re a short drive from the Allagash, St. John and Penobscot (East and West Branch) Rivers. We can also get there by water, but the route is challenging.
The next town downstream is Ashland, Maine, known as the gateway to the North Maine Woods. Ashland is home to a diner and a grocery store. The nearest large town is Presque Isle, about a 40 minute drive, where there is lots of shopping as well as airline and bus service.
For more information on Masardis, read the info page from the Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce.
For more information on the North Maine Woods, check out their website at northmainewoods.org. You can download a map of the region, either in full size (27×34, 7MB) or single sheet (8×10, 5.4MB) format from their map page.
During our spring, summer and fall courses students stay their own tent. They also build a variety of different shelters and stay in them for several days, or for the duration of their stay if they choose. You will not be carrying your tent any distance, so plan to get one that’s comfortable even if it’s heavy and bulky. During the winter program, students stay in woodstove-heated shelters while at our home base, and in woodstove-heated wall tents in the bush.
Bringing or buying an extra tarp to keep your gear dry, both at the field school and on trips, is a great plan. We have no inside storage.
In extended periods of wet weather, your tent should be large enough so that your sleeping bag doesn’t touch the tent wall. If it touches, it gets wet, regardless of how much you spent on your tent. If you’re taller than 5’6″, consider getting a 4-person tent to use solo. 2-person tents often don’t work that well for tall people.
Bathing and Hygiene
Everyone is expected to maintain an acceptable level of hygiene during the course. This is accomplished by swimming in the river (without soap or shampoo), bucket baths (with soap and shampoo) and sunshowers.
Regardless of what it says on the label, absolutely no soap, even if it is “biodegradable” or camping soap, is to be used within 250 feet of the river, pond, or stream, or any other natural source of water.
If you’d like to have your own personal hot shower whenever you want it, consider bringing a sunshower. (There are numerous models running from $10-$40.) Fill it in the morning and by afternoon you’ll have 5 gallons of hot water to use in our shower enclosure.
A big step up from a solar shower bag is a Pump-up solar shower. We’ve used one of these and they work great. You pressurize it so you don’t have to hang it; it sits on the ground. They’re also much easier to fill with hot water than a solar shower, making it a great option when the weather is cloudy.
There are also modern, indoor showers available nearby.
Composting Toilet System
Before their course begins, each student is encouraged to read The Humanure Handbook. This introduces the composting toilet system we use, and will answer any questions the student might have about procedures, pathogens and safety. We’ve been using this system since 1996, and have experienced no problems with it. It’s simple, odorless, uses minimal inputs and is the basis of our thermophyllic composting system. Keep in mind that we don’t have an alternative to the humanure system. If using a composting toilet makes you significantly uncomfortable, then field school programs are probably not a good option for you.
We have five outhouses at the field school. If you want to upgrade your personal accommodations to include your own private toilet for your tent or shelter, consider bringing your own toilet seat and 5 gallon bucket (or 2 buckets). These Luggable Loo toilet seats clip onto a bucket. You can also improvise your own seat or build a toilet box like the ones we use based on the instructions in the Humanure Handbook. Other options include making one of these milk crate toilet boxes or buying one of these plywood toilet boxes.
This scalability is one of the benefits of the humanure system. With a conventional toilet system, the collection locations (ie. toilets) are centralized because they have to be connected to pipes. With the more advanced humanure system, the collection locations can be decentralized, with the processing facility (ie. compost pile) being centralized.
Laundry is done by hand in a bucket or at the laundromat in town.
We are completely off the grid and don’t have a landline phone. Past students who wanted to be in constant telephone contact have used cell phones to do so. We get good cell phone reception at the field school, as there is a cell tower several miles away (currently leased by Verizon). If you want to stay in touch but don’t have a cell phone, consider a prepaid cell phone. Past students have used TracFones and had good reception. Both Verizon and AT&T phones work well (5 bars), as does Straight Talk. One past student from Europe brought a T-Mobile phone and it didn’t work at all. Sprint phones have also not worked in the past.
Verizon and AT&T smartphones work at the field school. If you need to have internet connectivity for a laptop consider bringing a hotspot. Verizonand Straight Talk have mobile hotspots that work at the field school. We have used a Verizon hot spot to run our field school office for the past several years. Note: The office internet connection is NOT available for student use. Because it runs off the cell tower it is metered, and everyone checking their email and Facebook would quickly use up the available bandwidth we need for our office. If you need to log on, plan ahead.
On the days that it is open, the Ashland Community Library has wifi.
The Turner Memorial Public Library in Presque Isle has an open wifi connection. There are several other spots in Presque Isle that have wifi, including Tim Hortons and McDonalds.
In the past we’ve had students who needed a more dedicated option for participating in online courses, uploading media, etc. There is a coworking space in Presque Isle called Hardscrabble Solutions where you can pay for a workspace and high-speed internet.
Charging Batteries, Electricity
Our field school is off the grid. We have a small solar system for our needs, but it is NOT available for students to charge their cell phones, etc. We have several charging stations available for student use. These are 100 watt solar panels that output to USB. We recommend students charge batteries with these, then use the batteries to charge their electronic devices. We were advised by an engineer to not charge electronic devices directly with this system.
If you’re planning on driving to the field school, plan ahead and get an inverter for your vehicle. These plug into the cigarette lighter and outputs through a standard AC plug. Part of living off the grid is that whenever your vehicle is running, you’re charging something. If you’re vehicle is running and you’re not also charging something, you’re wasting energy.
Parking is available on-site at the field school. Many people bring extra gear and leave it in their vehicles. It’s better to have it and not use it than need it and not have it. Once the road is free of snow in the spring, trucks such as UPS have no trouble getting in and out. When snow is deep we park at the top of the hill and walk in.