Wild Blueberry Barrens
Byway travelers will experience a landscape on the Bold Coast that exists nowhere else in the world – wide open expanses of low-bush wild blueberry fields, called “barrens”. With over 6.5 million varieties, fields can contain 1,500 genetically distinct plants that create the complex flavor of wild blueberries and unique patchwork of foliage in spring and fall.
Wild blueberries have thrived for 10,000 years despite the nutrient-deficient sandy glacial outwash plains in which they grow. People have cultivated the wild blueberry as an important food source through biennial burning since their beginning. Large scale commercial production only began in the later 1800’s. Now, over 90% of the world’s wild blueberry supply grows on the Bold Coast.
The August harvest once drew a large population of migrant workers to the region, including Micmacs from Canada, Hispanics, and Latinos. Migrants sent money home to their families. Generations of local youth paid for school clothes and their first cars. A permanent population of Latin-x residents, wild blueberry farms with roadside stands, giant tractors crawling down the road, and seasonal workers are a modern-day continuation of the long-standing history of wild blueberry production.
Due to the tradition of wild blueberry farming, substrate in the barrens remains intact, revealing some of the best-preserved glacial features in Maine. Pineo Ridge in Cherryfield, a site on the Maine Ice Age Trail, is considered one of the finest examples of a washboard moraine in the Eastern US. The Baseline Road offers a side loop from Cherryfield to experience the vastness and wild beauty of Wyman’s barrens, and accesses several Maine Ice Age Trail sites.
In order to map the Atlantic seaboard for navigation and national defense in early 1800’s using a chain of triangles, six baselines were constructed from Maine to Louisiana, measured and built with extreme accuracy. In 1857, local farmers and lumbermen were hired to grade a 12-foot-wide path along the 6th and final baseline. Where necessary, the path was cut into banks or raised by stone cribbing so that the incline or decline never exceeded one foot in six meters. The rugged coast of Maine made it necessary to site the last baseline well inland, therefore Most of the Epping Baseline Road is intact; no remnants remain of the other five baselines. The Cherryfield-Narraguagus Historical Society is home to what is left of the eastern baseline marker.
The gravel Baseline Road loop leads travelers back to the Scenic Byway near Ruggles House museum in the Columbia Falls historic district and the Wild Blueberry Land Museum. The annual Machias Wild Blueberry festival with its Wild Blueberry Musical and wild blueberry farm tours are a regional harvest celebration of the humble fruit that continues to shape our landscapes and lives.
Best time of the year: Fresh wild blueberries are available during August; frozen berries are available year-round. Wild Blueberry Land’s museum is open daily June to October.
Direction/Signage: The Baseline Road intersects State Route 193 7 miles north of the Scenic Byway in Cherryfield, and is marked at this intersection.