By Antoinette Rahn
Revered musician Carlos Santana reportedly once said, “There is no greater reward than working from your heart and making a difference in the world.”
In the densely wooded region of southwestern Maine, there is a community of people who strive to exemplify the above statement. And if the past and the present are any indications, their efforts have had and continue to have an impact near and far.
Among the rockhounding ambassadors of the region, best known as Maine’s Granite Pegmatite Belt, are Mary Groves, her family, and volunteers of Poland Mining Camps. Located in Androscoggin County, Maine, the Camps has been serving the interests and enthusiasm of rockhounds of every age and level of experience since the 1960s.
Groves’ late husband, Dudy, came up with the idea in the 1950s to create the complex and proceeded to build the facilities himself, using pine timber on the property to construct the buildings. In the course of a few years, Dudy built 10 cabins, a pavilion, and a few additional buildings, each in a style Mary calls ‘Maine Rustic,’ with modern conveniences.
“It’s so important to have continuity,” Groves said. “What we’re trying to do is keep access to mining sites and minerals open to as many people as possible. To me, one of the most important parts of what we do is keeping the interest in minerals alive and providing opportunities for people to discover minerals and Maine.”
For Groves, her interest in minerals began early in life, followed by a move to Maine as an adult. It was her uncle who introduced her to the wonder of minerals and collecting when she was just eight years old.
“The time I spent with him looking for minerals developed a deep curiosity in me,” said Groves. “So, by the time I moved to Maine, it was an important interest.”
Finding Love, Adventure, and Opportunity in Maine
The move to Maine, and specifically the community of Poland, brought
about another introduction, to the man who would become her husband, and her ‘best friend.’
“When I moved to the area, he was tending the dump, and everyone always knows the guy who runs the dump, right?” Groves said with a chuckle. “At the time, I used to have a dashboard collection of various things I’d found over the years, and when he saw my collection, he asked if I collected minerals and we began talking.”
The Groves ran Poland Mining Camps side-by-side for years, and when Dudy became ill, Mary made him the promise that after he was gone, she’d continue the work they did that began with his dream, and she has, with help from family and volunteers.
“Everybody who helps is a volunteer,” Groves explained. “Many are family, as my children work with me, and some of my grandchildren, who are teachers are spending their summers here.”
Top Tourist Destination
Every day of the week, during June, July, and August, Poland Mining Camps guides lead groups and individuals on excursions to one of 12 mine locations in the area, where they are graciously permitted to dig, Groves said. They offer one week, three-day, and one-day dig packages, and various reports from satisfied customers say the experience (digging, camaraderie, and meals made by Mary) is among the very best they’ve had.
It’s an honor to be able to contribute in this way, to carry on what Dudy started all those years ago, and to do so in this part of the world, she explained.
“The attitude of the people who live in rural Maine is what makes my heart sing,” Groves said. “Everybody helps everybody and people who visit see that.”
Plus, the opportunity to continually learn about minerals, meet people from around the world, and watch as others gain more knowledge is incredibly fulfilling and inspiring, Groves explained. Again, these are some of the many difference-making aspects and rewards that come from working from the heart.