West Quoddy Head State Park

New England's best preserved peat bog

Lubec, ME

September 16th, 1999

The coastal area of Maine holds many secrets. Those little out-of-the-way places where nature has shaped life in strange and different ways. We found one of these while seeking the easternmost point in the continental United Sates. Our search brought us to the small community of Lubec. Driving for several miles down a poorly marked road brought us to the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the east end of the Quoddy Head State Park. This can be a pretty exciting piece of real estate. The waters off West Quoddy Head peninsula form part of the open end of Canada's Bay of Fundy, which lies between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The shape of the Bay of Fundy causes extremely high tides. At West Quoddy Head, tides rise and fall an average of 15.8 feet in six hours. The cool nutrient-rich waters host abundant marine life in the large intertidal zone. Northern types of seaweed are found here, along with arctic clams and snails, anemones and sea stars. Quoddy Head State Park, located on the peninsula of West Quoddy Head is the easternmost point in the United States. Steep rock cliffs, a peat bog and trees shaped by harsh winds characterize the park's environment. West Quoddy Head is wrapped in fog for an average of 59 days a year and has some of Maine's coolest summer temperatures. Over time, these temperatures, a moist climate and the area's topography created conditions for the formation of a coastal peat bog. A park feature typical of maritime eastern Maine and New Brunswick. The park's cliffs are remnant of marine volcanoes that erupted 420 million years ago and now form the bedrock of much of coastal Maine and New Brunswick. The horizontal volcano layers were tilted almost vertical along the Pundean fault - a fracture in the earth's crust that parallels the coast just off the park's shores. Glacial scouring and the battering surf have carved the cliffs which are 90 to 150 feet from the sea. The park has several hiking trails, of varying degrees of difficulty, without climbing anything more difficult than stairs. The terrain is thick with trees and rocks and every turn greeted us with yet another awesome sight. We took the trail that led to the only preserved Peat bog on the Eastern Coast, and the only one we had ever seen. West Quoddy Head Bog has evolved through a slow process of plant growth and decay over the past 8000 years. Conditions for the bog's formation began when a glacier left a large submerged basin on West Quoddy head peninsula. Most of the water eventually receded, leaving a deposit of glacial and marine sediment. Fresh water from rain and snow filled the basin to form a pond and gradually algae, pond weeds and other aquatic plants grew. As these plants accumulated and decayed, the pond area filled. Once the pond was filled, sphagnum moss and rooted plants began to grow. Drainage was impeded and the retained water inhibited the complete decay of plant material turning it into Peat. Peat in its natural state is about 90% moisture and 10% organic matter and is the first stage in the formation of coal. Peat has been valued by people for centuries. It is used mainly for fuel especially in Europe, where it has been widely harvested and processed. Because it is so absorbent, peat is also used as a soil additive, surgical dressing , animal bedding and a filtration material for septic systems. The Peat is quite fragile and a footprint in it may last as long as two years. Because of its unusual environmental condition of high water and low quality nutrients, a strange assortment of plants have adopted to its domain. They each have had to adapt to the conditions and acquire the required nutrients in other ways or suffer the effect by creating a dwarf version of themselves. The Pitcher plants eat insects to obtain essential nitrogen and proteins they cannot find any other way. Pitcher plant leaves have nectar glands that attract insects. The cone shaped leaves, lined with downward pointing hairs, also form a natural insect trap. When an insect climbs inside the plant, the hairs prevent its escape. Eventually it falls into water which has accumulated in the base of the leaf and is digested by the plants secreted enzymes. It took about an hour to walk to the bog, see it, and return. I would put this one high on the nature lover's list.

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