October 27, 2021: Profile Story on Bernd Heinrich ’63


Below is another interesting profile story, written by Bruce Wentworth ’63, about one of our great classmates. Enjoy!


Bernd Heinrich was born in Poland of a landed gentry family. His father, an amateur biologist, often traveled overseas on bird collecting expeditions for various U.S. museums. In 1944, when Bernd was 4 years old, his family had to leave everything and flee west ahead of the advancing Russian army. After 3 harrowing months and some close calls, they were able to escape across the border into western Germany. They lived in a tiny hut in the Hahnheide forest, literally living off the land. This was the beginning of Bernd’s lifelong fascination with nature. His “toys” were the insects, birds, and small animals he discovered in the forest.

In 1951, his family was sponsored by the New York Museum of Natural History and emigrated to the U.S. They moved to a farm in Wilton, Maine. Bernd attended Goodwill-Hinckley School, a boarding school in Hinckley, Maine, where he continued exploring nature in the surrounding countryside. His parents were frequently overseas on expeditions.
After high school, Bernd joined his classmates in the incoming UMaine Class of 1963. Prior to his junior year, he took leave and joined his parents in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on their last expedition for Yale’s Peabody Museum. He returned to campus the next fall, receiving his B.S. in zoology in 1964. He subsequently earned his master’s in zoology also at UMaine. Bernd received his Ph.D. in biology at UCLA and then taught at U.C. Berkeley.

After 14 years, he joined the faculty at the University of Vermont, where he remained until he retired as a Professor Emeritus.

While in California, Bernd purchased land in Weld, Maine, built a log cabin, and returned each summer to conduct research. During UVM winter break, he still conducts a Winter Ecology field course at his cabin. In retirement, he lives full time in a newer log cabin which was constructed near the original one. He lives off the grid, but has solar panels to power his laptop and a satellite dish for internet connection.

In 2017, Bernd worked with the Forest Society of Maine (FSM) to establish a conservation easement on his 635 acres to ensure it will remain “forever forest”. FSM is a member and participant of the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit, one of many services offered by the UMaine College of Forest Resources. His action inspired a neighbor to follow suit and establish his own easement.

Bernd was an outstanding long-distance runner in high school and college, though his best was yet to come. In 1979, he ran the Golden State Marathon and won. Four months later, he ran another marathon and missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials by 41 seconds. In 1980, he finished first in the Masters Division (age 40+) of the Boston Marathon. He moved on to ultra running and set national and world records in the 50 mile, 100 mile, 50k, and 100k distances. He also set a national record in the 24-hour run (156 miles, 1388 yards). He was elected to two Maine running halls of fame and the American Ultra Running Hall of Fame. He still runs a moderate 4-6 miles regularly.

Beginning in his undergraduate years, Bernd established himself as a prolific science and naturalist writer. He has authored and co-authored more than 200 scientific papers and essays and has written 24 books, many of which contain his very detailed sketches and drawings. He has received a number of writing awards, including the John Burroughs Medal for Natural History. Bernd has been interviewed by NPR and PBS, most recently in July of this year on the PBS NewsHour, which highlighted his latest book “Racing The Clock-Running Across A Lifetime.” The book studies the aging process and the physiology of running. (The interview can be viewed on YouTube).

In 2014, Bernd received the Career Achievement Award from the UMaine Alumni Association.

In discussing some of his paintings, Vincent Van Gogh talked about “embracing the exuberance of nature.” Bernd has certainly done that! An amazing life journey by a remarkable classmate.

Dana Dolloff
Class President