For years, Sears Island has been a popular place to visit for those who enjoy bird-watching, beach walking and hiking along the island’s many trails.

Over time, though, many of the walking trails have become overgrown, said Bob and Marietta Ramsdell, who are members of Friends of Sears Island. Heavy rains during the summer of 2009 hit the island’s Homestead Trail hard. That, combined with regular foot traffic, led to erosion and the creation of many wet, muddy patches all along the way.

The Homestead Trail, which leads from the beach on the Stockton Springs side of the island and loops through the woods and back to the paved island road, is the only trail that has remained reasonably open due to the volume of visitors. The Ramsdells said that it is also the most widely used trail on the island.

FOSI members decided to improve the Homestead Trail as the organization’s first real project, and after getting the go-ahead from the 11-member Sears Island Advisory Committee, they went to work to secure the funding needed.

FOSI applied for a grant from the Recreational Trails Program through the state Department of Conservation, and received word earlier this year that the grant application had been approved.

Through the grant, FOSI was put in contact with the Maine Conservation Corps, a DOC program that is devoted to conservation and environmental education across Maine.

As a result, up to seven MCC trail-builders from all over New England arrived in Searsport and began building several cedar log bridges over a brook and several wet areas. The MCC team also constructed rock “water bars” to deflect the flow of water along the trail.

But before that work could begin Oct. 19, Bob Ramsdell said the eight-foot logs had to be delivered and carried to their destinations at different points along the trail. Students with Bonneville Canyon Retreat in Belfast volunteered their services for that task Oct. 18, spending more than three hours lugging the 70-pound logs to locations along the trail.

“They were a super group of kids, and they really worked hard,” commented Bob Ramsdell.

The youths moved 130 logs altogether, said the Ramsdells, an effort that allowed the MCC crew to get right to work on building the series of log bridges.

“I remember looking at this task and thinking that it was so daunting, I don’t know how they can finish this in four days,” said Marietta Ramsdell.

But, by Friday morning, Oct. 22, the project was nearing completion. The MCC crew typically started work at about 7:30 a.m. each day, and often worked all day long.

Chelsea Simon of Tilton, N.H., served as the MCC team leader for the trail project. Simon said the island project was similar to other work the group does across the state each year.

“We do a lot of different stuff, anything from building with rock, building with wood, cutting new trails and managing older trails,” she said.

Simon said she and her MCC teammates had a great experience during their time in Searsport.

“We’ve had great weather, great materials and a great atmosphere,” she said. “We get to go down to the beach to have lunch.”

The MCC team was also treated to hotel accommodations at the nearby Yardarm, which Simon said was a nice change for her team, because they usually camp near their work sites.

After walking over the bog bridges, the trail opens up into a field, which had long been overgrown and was in need of grooming. FOSI recently obtained the services of Ken Hooper of Searsport, who bush-hogged the entire area and made the trail more visible.

Each effort to improve the Homestead Trail, said the Ramsdells, is laying the foundation for more trail work in the future, and the possibilities are wide open. Theme trails, such as one that helps visitors identify various trees on the island, are being considered.

FOSI expects to get a full natural resources inventory, which resulted from several visits by a professional forester and biologist to the island last April. That report, said Marietta Ramsdell, will assist FOSI in determining how best to cut new trails in the future without damaging the island’s ecology.

Overall, Marietta Ramsdell said she had been impressed with the work ethic shown by the MCC team this week, as well as the youth volunteers from Bonneville Canyon Retreat.

“It’s so nice to know that there are young people out there who care about the environment, who are willing to do this hard work,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering for FOSI, to do trail work, fundraising or assisting with special events, is encouraged to visit the organization’s Web site at friendsofsearsisland.com.