• Bob Cummings, Legendary Maine environmental reporter moves on to new trails

    It is very sad news that I have to pass on that our fellow WhiteBlaze member "Weary" has passed on. Here is an article by Jym St. Pierre about Weary.


    Robert Cummings of Phippsburg died Thursday, January 21, at age 86.


    Born in Bath, Maine, Bob Cummings was a 1958 graduate of the University of Illinois School of Journalism, where he worked part-time as a reporter for the Champaign-Urbana Courier. After returning to Maine he worked briefly in the Machias Bureau of the Bangor Daily News before joining the staff of the Bath Times. Later he worked at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram for many years.

    Cummings covered many environmental topics during his journalism career, but undoubtedly his biggest boot print on history will be his landmark work, which helped lead to the recovery by Maine of more than 400,000 acres of forgotten public lots.

    When townships were laid out in the District of Maine, then part of Massachusetts, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, approximately 1,000 acres were set aside for public uses in each future community. Around 1870, paper companies and other large landowners in Maine acquired the one-time right to log those public lots in many of the townships in northern Maine that were never organized into towns. The companies came to believe they owned the cutting rights in perpetuity. In fact, many acted as if they owned the land outright.

    Beginning in March 1972, Bob Cummings wrote dozens of articles on Maine's "lost" public lots. The publicity brought attention to the issue and helped lead to a lawsuit that resulted a decade later in the State recovering nearly a half million acres. The legal decision, along with earlier out of court settlements with private landowners, culminated in consolidation of scattered public lots into a highly regarded system of public reserved lands managed for multiple use, including recreation, habitat protection and sustainable forestry.

    Today, we cherish Maine's public lands, but it was not always so. In 2004, Cummings reflected to a colleague: "Most found the idea that the state could misplace 400,000 acres of land absurd. Both my editors and many readers treated the story as almost a joke. None of the major environmental groups paid any attention. The NRCM board debated the public lots and concluded it wasn't an environmental issue. Audubon as near as I can tell ignored the issue entirely. My role was to keep the story alive until the legal and political processes could take notice and respond."

    During his more than three-decade newspaper career in Maine, Cummings also covered many other major conservation and environmental issues, including proposals for oil refineries on the coast, clearcutting in the North Woods, and plans for massive dams on the Penobscot and St. John Rivers. He introduced thousands to hiking trails at the Cutler Preserve in Washington County, canoe trips on the Allagash, winter adventures up Katahdin, and to countless other places in the Maine outdoors.

    He was criticized for writing stories that called attention to the beauty of the seven peaks of Bigelow Mountain, but the publicity helped put the referendum that snatched the mountain from the hands of developers over the top. Today, rather than another mountain blanketed with condos, outdoor enthusiasts and critters of many species can enjoy the Bigelow Preserve as a wild sanctuary.

    Cummings was also instrumental in other conservation initiatives. For instance, he founded the Phippsburg Land Trust in the 1970s and served on its board of directors for years. The land trust has protected hundreds of acres and has developed many miles of trails. Cummings said his goal was to establish "walking preserves in each section of Phippsburg." He served on the committee that dreamed up the Land for Maine’s Future Program in the 1980s and during the Angus King Administration in the late 1990s he sat on the State's Land Acquisition Priorities Committee. In addition, he edited the newsletter of the Maine Association of Conservation Commissions for years.

    In 1981, Cummings published a book on energy conservation entitled "Housewarming." Sales were mediocre. He later said that "When I ran unsuccessfully for the state senate from Sagadahoc County in 1992, I bought the 8,000 unsold copies for 10 cents each and gave them away door to door. I now buy them back for 50 cents when they show up at the Bath and Brunswick library sales, so I have a few to give away a second time."

    In 1993, two years after he retired from journalism, Cummings took a train from Boston to Georgia and spent six months walking home to Maine covering most of the 2,170 miles of the Appalachian Trail. He also walked into leadership roles at several Appalachian Trail organizations, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, and the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, which he helped to create. He maintained several miles of the Appalachian Trail system on Whitecap Mountain for decades.

    Over the years, Bob Cummings earned much recognition for his trail blazing environmental journalism. Bob was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. The Maine Press Association named him journalist of the year in 1978. He earned the Down East Environmental Award in 1981, and in 2004 he received a Distinguished Service Award from the Appalachian Mountain Club. In 2005, RESTORE: The North Woods presented him with a Restoration Leadership Award. Most recently, in October 2015, Cummings received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    Bob Cummings is survived by Mary Ellen Cummings, his wife of 52 years, and his three children, Brenda, Stephen, and Charles.
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Patrickjd9's Avatar
      Patrickjd9 -
      Wow, he had quite an amazing life. I enjoyed his writings here, but was unfamiliar with his career.
    1. Heliocen's Avatar
      Heliocen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrickjd9 View Post
      Wow, he had quite an amazing life. I enjoyed his writings here, but was unfamiliar with his career.
      I don't think I would have climbed Katahdin once, never mind 3 times, since I've been back in Maine in 2010 w/o Uncle Bob's presence there. He also organized our trips to Mt. Whitney, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. All great memories and Bob is in the center of them. He will be missed.
    1. micstan's Avatar
      micstan -
      He will be missed!
    1. Trillium's Avatar
      Trillium -
      Weary used to invite WBers to join on hikes in the Phippsburg area. Well, on July 5, 2008 my daughter & I did just that. We met Weary and a group of about a dozen Phippsburg hikers and had a wonderful time for the next 3 hrs. We greatly enjoyed talking with and particularly listening to Weary as he was so knowledgable and had a lot of interesting stories. My daughter had worked on the Michigan State student newspaper for several years and they had some shared experiences.

      I've thought about him from time to time and wondered how he was doing. I send my sincerest condolences to his family and friends. They can take comfort in treasured memories and his significant beneficial accomplishments. Rest in Peace Weary!
    1. Migrating Bird's Avatar
      Migrating Bird -
      Prior to my SOBO hike in 2010, I had a simple question regarding which spinning lures I should bring with me as I intended on fishing my way south through Maine. Weary responded with kindness and informed me that many areas were fly fishing only. I brought a fly rod (and quite a few rods since) am hooked on fly fishing. I never knew what his background was, now I am just in awe. Everyone who enjoys the out of doors and Maine should be so thankful for his tremendous contribution preserving and protecting the environment of Maine. I know I am. I wish to extend my heartfelt condolences to Weary's family and friends.
      Peter
    1. Heliocen's Avatar
      Heliocen -
      Thoughts and Memories about My Uncle Bob
      (AKA Robert Charles Cummings, Weary)


      See http://www.desmondfuneralhomes.com/n...obert-Cummings


      I admittedly know only bits and pieces of my uncle's life
      having played hooky from Maine for thirty-odd years.
      At a brief stint in my senior HS year at my grandmother's,
      before given the heave-ho for breaking her rules
      like staying up passed 10 pm on a Friday night
      or perhaps getting on too well with my grandfather, I remember
      shockingly seeing on TV in a debate for some council election was my
      Uncle Bob! I never knew anyone in my family so bold and I was impressed that my uncle would expose himself like that. I remember my grandmother sitting there pointing at the TV and chortling with dismay at his crossed legs that exposed white socks! Obviously a great faux pas in her world. What impressed me was that he hardly said a word, which I knew even then wasn't the best way to sway a potential voter. I didn't know then of his more potent talents of persuasion. But that's how I first knew him, very quiet yet unexpectedly doing the unexpected.


      Many years later, my mother told me that I was invited to hike down the Grand Canyon with some of my relatives, a first for me. Uncle Bob headed the party down to Bright Angel Campground at Bright Angel Creek, right off of the Colorado River. At the top, I held back, savoring the moment. I literally could not believe my eyes! No great AMENS! to mountains of rock were ever so appropriately named as Vishnu Schist or Rama Schist. Dotted a thousand or so feet below me were pack mules that could barely be distinguished from scarab beetles and a thousand feet below that was the Mighty Colorado. I tipped my flask to Nature's wonder. I only wish this first impression of astounding beauty could be surpassed or even equaled in my life now. At the time, I took for granted how I got there and yet now I reflect back in gratitude to my Uncle Bob.


      My next great hike was also organized by Uncle Bob but for some reason he didn't join us. Though I lived then in California I never heard anyone mention Mt. Whitney outside of the fact that it is the highest mountain by a hair in the continental US. We climbed in mid-November, which was considered late for hiking Whitney usually, but the weather was mild and clear and our timing rewarded us with the ever-presence of the full golden bloom of sagebrush that followed us from the town of Lone Pine all the way up to the base camp on Whitney. At this camp we were awed by the starriest night I ever remembered seeing even with a full moon beaming. We walked around like it was midday. And all this beauty was reflected in a calm, shallow lake. And this view of the Sierras with its great panorama of distant lakes and cascading mountains, with marmots and turkey vultures and super easy switchbacks that kept our heads up in appreciation; by seeming happenstance, my Aunt Cal and I summitted this highest peak, though special, was really no big deal in comparison to all its other beautiful aspects. I don't remember the particulars, but on the way back we met Uncle Bob somewhere near the Mt. Whitney portal road at a ranger station. If I didn't think to thank him then, belatedly I thank him now.


      Uncle Bob then organized our trip to Yosemite. He had assiduously mapped out our three day hiking itinerary. We were to start from Tuolumne Meadows, hit one or two high Sierra camps, cross over to Nevada Falls and end up back at Yosemite Village, near where we had set up our main camp. Our weakest link was my Aunt Eli, who expressed in a million ways that she was a golfer and definitely not a hiker. Despite our usual overstuffed packs we were all enjoying the trail through the meadow, which starts out very flat and easy. Before we knew it, we had reached our first camp site. We had plenty of time to set up tents and hang our provisions in the trees. This was before the special bear storage boxes so the rangers gave us special instructions brochures. What the particulars of these instructions were, I don't remember, but I do remember my Uncle Bob bragging a bit of how he improved on them in our tree hanging design. It was just after dusk and we had just finished eating our dinner and were all sitting around the campfire with our drinks, when I noticed this huge shadow that was close enough to my mother that I thought it might have brushed her. Someone said almost too casually, “that was a bear”. Instantly we were all up and fishing for our headlamps. With the headlamps on him, I saw the biggest black bear I'd ever seen. He was lumbering as slow as a sloth up the tree and heading directly toward the two backpacks of food. Knowing what was coming, we started yelling and banging pots and pans to distract him from his goal. But he was as deliberate as can be. I remember him reaching out for the rope that one pack was attached to and purposely lifting it and dropping the load as if pure gravity could dislodge the pack. This Behemoth was obviously a pro. After a few attempts that way he gave up and pulled the pack rope toward him as he went a little farther out on the limb. One bite at the rope did the trick and the pack made a loud thump on the ground. We were still banging and yelling when I saw this rock fly over my head. I turned around and there was Uncle Bob looking as angry as I'd ever seen him picking up more ammunition to fling. He was just about to wing another rock when I grabbed his arm. I remember saying to him something like, “No man, this isn't worth dying over!” while holding back his rock-welding arm. It took him a second but he eventually started laughing with me. The big brute didn't even have the courtesy to take his booty into the woods but gulped it down in front of us. All of us but Aunt Eli were disappointed but what else could we do? Aunt Eli, of course, later bragged that she had hired that bear to do that. Sans Aunt Eli, we did hike up Glacier Point and a few other day hikes. Looking back on it, I'm rather glad it happened the way it did. When you are so personally in competition with the stupendous force of a bear that size it leaves a lasting memory that I reflect back on with keen pleasure. I never asked Uncle Bob, but it wouldn't surprise me if he felt the same way.


      About five years ago, in early Spring, I limped back to Maine literally on crutches. My Mother announced that my Uncle Bob had booked us reservations at Chimney Pond. A sort of base camp to the summit of Mt. Katahdin. My fondest childhood memories of hiking was always Mt. Washington, which I had climbed many times on summer vacation. My Grandparents had even honeymooned at Dolly Copp Campground, near the Great Gulf Trail-head that led to the summit of Washington, which I'd also hiked. Despite my desire to do Washington, Katahdin was always Uncle Bob's obsession. But the fact that he'd try to summit Katahdin with his bad heart inspired me. Crippled or not, we Gimps were going to try to make it. I believe Uncle Bob's wife Mary Ellen wanted to save her husband by sabotage and announce she was coming too. Which was crazy because she couldn't wend her way around a picnic table without holding on never-mind more than two miles of tough trail to Chimney Pond. Regardless we all started out on a cloudy day with a gaggle of mostly Bob's family. After swallowing six or so Vitamin I and borrowing trekking poles as my crutches, I started off with the rest of our family. About three and a half hours later I arrived with my Mom at Chimney Pond exhausted but surprisingly in one piece. An hour or so later came Uncle Bob. His wife wasn't with him. She had pooped out a mile or so back and had her daughter, Brenda, with her. Bob's grandson, Alex, and my cousin Margie went back to help. Margie eventually came back with news that a couple rescue rangers had provisions and were going to spend the night with them and they would descend in the morning. Uncle Bob seemed unperturbed and in fact seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly. The next morning the group took off for the summit at different times. I was with my Uncle Bob, my Mom, Aunt Cal and her daughter Margie doing the Saddle Trail. After a valiant effort, after maybe ¾ of a mile, my Uncle Bob, who was really short of breath, with my mother headed back. I was lagging behind my Aunt and cousin, which wasn't surprising since my ankle was even more swollen than my knee from the fluid drain. But I kept going. It then started to rain steadily and we could hear thunder in the background. In view of the summit ridge, they decided to turn around. I tried to talk them out of it and they did the same. None of us budged, so I headed on. When I got to the ridge the rain had let up. When I got within a quarter mile of the top I ran into one of Uncle Bob's sons, Stevie, and his kid who were heading down. It turns out the six year old kid wouldn't go one foot further. I tried to change his mind, but I was too exhausted myself I'm sure to be convincing. (They'd both make it together to the summit a couple years later.) Those creviced, jagged rocks near the top that I'd normally be able to step over I had to swing my bad leg over first and then the good one, which seemed to take forever. Dead on my feet I reached the summit sign. I was greeted by a thru-hiker who had just completed the AT. He was in a celebratory mood and equipped with a bottle of Southern Comfort. He had a captive audience because I wasn't going anywhere for a while and he talked on and on while he shared his spirits. After about one of those happy hours I realized I had to head back or I'd be limping back in the dark. I thanked my perfect host and congratulated him on completing the AT. On standing my knees felt wobbly for a couple of different reasons but that was just the break I needed. It was only after I had got past the ridge trail and the steep, loose rock part of the Saddle trail that my knee become useless. The borrowed trekking poles became my auxiliary leg and thank goodness I had them. When I got back to my Chimney Pond lean-to it was the late part of dusk and it was pouring raining. My cousin said she had talked to the ranger about going up and getting me, she was so worried. Back at the Chimney Pond cabin the whole clan was there. I shared my story about the AT hiker and even my cousin was laughing about it. I showed Uncle Bob the pictures of the AT hiker and me on the summit. He was very happy that one of us had made it. Even knowing his wife was stranded on the trail didn't seem to dampen Uncle Bob's spirits. Though unannounced we all knew this was a celebration of my Uncle Bob and I'm so grateful I was a part of it. And Uncle Bob's initiative brought me back to this great mountain two more times since then (and I still haven't summitted Mt. Washington!)


      I think the most surprising aspect of Uncle Bob's achievements as a major Maine environmentalist for me was that of being surprised. I did hear that Uncle Bob had been up for a Pulitzer for his journalism about some land deal but I really didn't understand any of the specifics. My Mother and her husband Earle, aka Honey and Bear, run an AT hostel that dates before they met the acknowledged first AT Thru-hiker, Earl Shaffer, on his second thru-hike in 1998. The main dining area is almost a shrine to that meeting not only with pictures of Shaffer but of the first southbound AT Thru-hiker and other notables like Baltimore Jack and Warren Doyle. Since my return to Maine in 2010 I've helped out with the daily operations of the hostel, so I had to listen to them redirect any allusion vaguely related to Earl Shaffer to one of their monologues about this meeting. Often my Mom would talk with delight about Earl Shaffer's irritation with the new sections of very tough trails including especially Mahoosuc Notch and coyly admitted to her audience that her brother Bob had helped redirect the old trail into these tough new sections. I had shuttled many AT hikers to Grafton Notch which enjoins Mahoosuc Notch and by all accounts this is a very tough section of the AT. By this patchwork of hearsay, his recent lifetime achievement award in news articles and a little research on the internet, I've stitched in my mind a rough outline of Uncle Bob's accomplishments and I must say I'm more impressed the more I've learned about them. And you know, public land is still terribly exploited by clandestine private interests who hold auction leases for as little as a $1 an acre to extract whatever they can despite the human cost to our environment. Where are the Uncle Bob's of journalism nowadays to expose them and force public lands into protected preserves like Uncle Bob advocated? I will miss Uncle Bob mostly for personal reasons: for his love of nature, his quiet good humor and getting me to these wonderful places, but I think many more will miss him as someone who lived his life to keep these wonderful places forever for everyone.
    1. mweinstone's Avatar
      mweinstone -
      Honey and bear, i love you both. Rip weary.
      Matthewski
    1. mweinstone's Avatar
      mweinstone -
      Thinkin about weary today cause i lost another friend. Never drinkin a single drink ever again in protest of death.
      Bin months.
      Feels really good.
      Rip weary, jack, otto, malla.
      Matthewski loves you for a thousand lifetimes.
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