Brunswick Commons

The beginning of September brought cool nights and pleasant days; perfect weather for exploring the outdoors. Due to my exploration buddy’s health issues and long work hours, I had not dragged her on any adventures in quite some time, so I was surprised when she asked if I wanted to join her on a trip to Brunswick. She was thinking she might need a change and wanted to head down  towards the bigger town to scout out job opportunities. After spending the morning collecting applications, I thought I might be able to convince her to fit in a small exploration. She agreed to a simple walk and so we headed off to the Brunswick Commons.

We left the Main Street area and headed a short distance south of Bowdoin College before locating a decent size parking area for the Commons. Before setting out, my buddy did inform me that she was not going on any unknown loop trails (I swear I don’t do that….much) and only wanted to do a straight out and back trail. I agreed to this and soon we were walking along a wide path through the woods.

Prior to our trip, I had researched the Commons while looking for something that I thought my friend could manage. I had noticed that there were some comments from just a few years ago that complained that trails were unmarked and the newcomer could get confused in the network of trails. Perhaps, because we only covered a small section of the park and stayed on the “Main Trail” we only discovered one place near our turn around point, where an unmarked trail branched off the central corridor.

At one point I gazed longingly down a path called “Johnny’s Trail” but my friend laughed, commented about my desire to explore and refused to follow this side trail. I gave one last look down Johnny’s Trail before turning back towards the Main Trail. The path we had chosen was easy and since I did not have to worry about obstacles under foot, I had time to really enjoy my surrounding. I had already noticed, during my explorations throughout August that the wildflowers were turning, but now I noticed that September was beginning to speed up these color changes. I found a Maple sapling that had already turned red.

As we continued on our journey, we found a few informative signs that presented information about Pine Barrens (Pitch Pine Loop) and the Chestnut Tree. Again we kept to the central path, passing the other end of the Pitch Pine Loop, until we reached a point where the trail continued past two boulders. I assumed that the road continued to one of the surrounding neighborhoods, so we decided to turn back.

As we approached that second turn off to the Pitch Pine Loop, I convinced my friend to veer towards this section of the woods. She probably agreed because she already knew where this side trip intersected with the path that would take us back to the entrance. Walking through a different section of growth, I noticed once more that the small wildflower vegetation was done for the season and the ferns were well on their way. The summer had disappeared rather quickly this year. I suppose the long, wet Spring that extended well into June, left us only two short months of Summer before Autumn caught us by surprise. I could only hope that the new season would linger awhile.

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Sweetgrass Winery

The first weekend in September there were errands to run, but naturally, I had to research any hiking possibilities nearby. My hunt for a suitable outing resulted in two possibilities, so after my spouse was done picking up tractor supplies and pining over the new tractors I dragged him off to explore the Carroll Farm Trail at the Sweetgrass Farm Winery nearby. The current owners of the farm, along with the local land trust, had laid out a series of trails through the fields and woods a number of years ago and this seemed like the perfect spot for a short hike.

Arriving at the winery, we spoke with a gentleman working near the barn to ensure that they were open for business, that we were okay to park where we did, and to ask about the trails.  He indicated a section on our map where the trail might not be clearly defined since they had just hayed the meadow, showed us the way around the field, then directed us to the back of the barn where the trail began. After stopping for a moment at the back of the barn in order to orient ourselves, we set off towards a sign at the bottom of field.

After walking across the grass, we discovered that the sign did indeed indicate the beginning of the meadow path and set off on our adventure. On either side of the trail we found goldenrod, milkweed and thistles mixed in with the tall grass. Given the nasty construction of thistle leaves we made sure not to stray off the path. We did stop to investigate the milkweed and discovered that most were already bearing seedpods. Only a few were ready to release their seeds. I only saw one butterfly flitting nearby but other people have told me that this was promising to be a phenomenal year for butterflies. So far I have not witnessed the abundance that others had promised.

It wasn’t long before we reached the hayed field, but, rather than circle through the field we decided to turn towards an obvious corridor that would complete the field loop and take us toward the forest loop. We did pause for a moment to watch some turkeys moving about in the distance before continuing our journey. In the wooded section on either side of this connector I observed a few different varieties of ferns, goldenrod and a cluster of small white flowers that I had been trying to identify for the last several weeks during our woodland walks. Completing some research after this walk, I finally discovered that these white flowers were Pearly Everlastings. Another flower to add to my repertoire!

Although the wooded road was marked it was a little hard to maneuver since some areas were a bit overgrown. We made our way with some difficulty through this section before reaching the Medomak River. After crossing a barely visible bog bridge we reached the other side of the field where we had observed the turkeys earlier. The grass and reeds were high enough that I could not get a good view of the river. In fact, we almost missed the sign that indicated that this area was a spot to put in canoes and kayaks. We were puzzled as to how anyone could push their way through the grass to get close enough to the river.

After studying the river, we walked along the road for a bit before the trail picked up again through the woods. We followed the path back to the beginning of the meadow loop and turned towards the winery. It had been an interesting hike but it was time to reward ourselves with a tasting before returning home.

Completing the Multi-Use Trail

The last weekend in August we decided to up the ante on our hiking level and attempt the entire Multi-Use trail at the Camden Hills State Park. Not wishing to punish ourselves too much, we parked a car at either end of the trail so that we would not have to complete a death march of 10 miles. Leaving one car at the park entrance on Route 1, we drove to our usual starting point in Lincolnville and set off on our adventure.

The first portion of our hike was the familiar mile or so up to the Bald Rock and Cameron Mountain trailheads. From there, we began to notice some variation in the woodlands and accompanying vegetation as we moved along. There were more aster type flowers on this section of the road, both white and purple with sparse petal arrangements as well as some tiny yellow flowers, possibly in the fleabane family. I did not get clear images of the leaf arrangements on these plants so I just had to go with the general category of asters. (If you look at any field guide most seem to lump the majority of flowers into the aster family, including the daisy and fleabane, so I would not be wrong to assume these were all in the aster family.) We also noticed more Indian Root Cucumbers in this area, with the tell-tale red center that it displays at the end of its season.

As we traveled on, the forest to our left seemed to thin out some distance from the path, allowing more light to shine through the woods. We could only assume that the area most have been wet. When we referenced the trail map later in the day, we saw that the area was indeed designated as bog. It wasn’t long before the vegetation changed again and I noticed the bounty of Wild Sarsaparilla along the roadside. For the most part they had lost the green and summer and now displayed some interesting variegated green and yellow hues.

A little past the half way point we reached the ski shelter. It was an interesting cabin with a wonderful stone fireplace facing the trail. We peeked through the windows and discovered several picnic tables and plenty of floor space for camping. Behind the cabin were additional tables for those who just wanted to enjoy the outdoor scenery. Not far from the picnic area I could see evidence of a brook, dry at this point in the season. Across from the shelter, was a sign for the Slope Trail but I was a bit skeptical about the bridge one must cross to begin that adventure.

Leaving the cabin and continuing on our journey we did stop to investigate the stony brook bed. There were just a few puddles that we could see but what really intrigued me were the stones just at the edge of the trail overlooking the brook. At first I thought someone had played around and piled up a cairn by the side of the road. On closer inspection I saw that it was a stone man protecting the brook beyond.

By the time we reached mile 4, I was beginning to get tired. It didn’t help that my legs never seemed to loosen up for this trip, so every incline was a struggle. It also didn’t help that there had been work done on the Multi-Use trail over the previous 2 weeks and we had to deal with the uneven terrain from the construction.

After 2 hours and change, we finally reached the park entrance and decided to seek out a place for lunch. This was not to be the end of our weekend adventures, though. The next day we did an additional 5 miles with friends when we took them up to Cameron Mountain. That seem evening, other friends invited us for dinner and a walk through the trails at Erickson Fields (another mile and half). Needless to say there was some inability to move by the end of the weekend.

Sagamore Farm

Mid-August we decided to explore a relatively unknown trail system a little closer to home. I knew about Sagamore Farm as a result of an email I received some time back about an organized  walk through the trail system. Unable to attend that walk, I spoke to the person who had led that walk and got directions to the trail head. His instructions included the advice to take a picture of the map at the trailhead before we set out.

The trail was located behind one of the local inns whose owners had generously allowed hikers to park at the far southern end of their property.  We were a bit deceived by the kiosk nearby, thinking that it was where the adventure would begin, but the map informed us that we needed to walk across the property, past the office and behind the lodge before searching for the path. Before setting out to hunt for the trail, we were amused by a chipmunk sitting on a post, eating the local berries nearby. We watched him for some time before moving on.

Once behind the lodge, we walked past the trail and needed to back track to find our starting point and only found it after referring to the map. It was rather hidden to say the least. At the opening that would lead us into the woods, I stopped to study a Queen Anne’s Lace. I had read that there is a dark purple heart-shaped flower in the center of the “lace” and wanted to see it for myself. I did not see the purple-heart on this particular flower but found an equally delightful gift, a ladybug sitting right where the identifying heart would be.

Given the recent town meeting discussions I had read, about the board not wanting to commit to a permanent trail system, I was surprised to find that the paths were clearly marked with blue blazes. Apparently, several years ago, the Midcoast Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association agreed to build and maintain routes throughout this piece of land. Between the blazes and our photographed map we had no problem exploring these woods. Our route did switchback on itself quite a bit but that would be the nature of a mountain bike system. On the other hand, perhaps because the population is considerably smaller than that of my previous home in New York, we did not see the extensive damage that we had witnessed when exploring trails designed for mountain bikers. It was a surprising but pleasurable experience.

We walked through a dark wood of mostly pines and oaks, with plenty of ferns and moss for ground cover. At one point during our adventure, we found some yellow stagshorn fungus partially hidden by the leaf litter. A little further on, we startled a toad that hopped off the path to hide beneath a fern. He was a fairly big fellow, one of three that we found during our walk. It was turning out to be an outing of animal discoveries; first the chipmunk, then the ladybug and finally the toads.

After following the twists and turns of the trail uphill, we soon noticed the path taking a downward trend. Along the way we discovered a tree so littered with pileated woodpecker holes that it was amazing there was anything left. Arriving at a more open area near the end of our journey, we found a Mountain Ash bearing brilliant red berries, its bark mottled with a ring of sapsucker holes the entire length of the tree. We attempted some tree identification at this point, both the Mountain Ash and the Mulberry Tree nearby, but these identities had to wait until we arrived home and could consult our guide books. Done with our hike we returned to our vehicle just as the rain came in.

Harkness Revisit

Looking back, I realized that it was 4 and a half years since I last visited the Harkness Preserve in Rockport. It had been early spring and a mere 6 months after my hip replacement. I had meandered over a lot of trails both in the woods and in my personal life since then, so I thought it would be a nice time to revisit this land trust property. It would also be another test of my ability to continue solo explorations.

We had tried to snowshoe through Harkness last winter but the small pull-out parking area was blocked by a mound of snow and there were signs clearly stating that street parking was forbidden, forcing us to adopt a Plan B. But early August was a different story. The pull-out was quite visible, allowing me to park and quickly head into the woods. Quickly was the optimum word here, since I was certainly walking with greater ease than I had been during my last visit.

The first thing I noticed was that the numbered sign posts for the interpretive trail were missing. In fact, when I reviewed the trail map for the Harkness Preserve there was no mention of any such interpretive guide. The blue blazed path was still in place but I guess a decision was made to abandon the stops that provided educational information.

Early on, I stopped to study the berries of a Canada Mayflower just beginning its color change from green to red, a sure sign that the end of summer was near. I also found a rather impressive golden mushroom nearby with a spoke-like appearance. I had seen another mushroom of this type while walking in the Camden Hills recently. At the time, I thought it resembled a star.

There must have been a family of crows living in this section of the woods because they made quite a racket both at the beginning and end of my trip. I ignored their abuse and continued on to a quieter portion of the park. I crossed over a stream bed that was more rocks and mud than water, before discovering an interesting object along the trail.

I was unaware of any deviation in the path from my last visit, but I could not recall ever seeing the remnants of an old lime kiln chimney cap along the trail. Perhaps, I was concentrating on keeping my balance while walking through the woods at the time, but I am pretty sure that my husband would have noticed it and pointed it out.  It was enough of a distance from the lime kiln remnants at the Rockport Harbor for me to wonder what it was doing in this particular place.

Passing the historic remains, I began the second loop within this preserve. A cheeky, red squirrel scampered up a nearby tree and once it knew that it was safe, made a brave show of scolding me from a distance. Well, he sure showed me!

Pretty soon, I arrived at a ledge that overlooked the harbor. It was a very clear summer day and I must say, the views of the clear sky and boats floating lazily on the water was mesmerizing. The stone chair was still there, looking more inviting than on the cold, gray spring day from four years ago. I spent some time admiring the views before retracing my steps back to the entrance. It had been a longer journey than my visit to Knight’s Pond but it proved I was fully capable of continuing some solitary adventures.