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Bass Falls Preserve

By late September, we had seen a number of days with rainfalls of an inch or more. After a brief drying out period, we were ready to explore something new, so my husband and I set out towards Alna and the Bass Falls Preserve on September 25th. On our journey, we passed a few other Midcoast Conservancy preserves and made a mental note for future expeditions.

When we arrived at the trailhead, we were fortunate that we were the only visitors there, for the parking area looked like it could barely accommodate 2 vehicles. The preserve consisted of two main loops with a short connector loop between them. We laid out a plan to explore both loops and set off on a mowed path alongside a field.

My husband did wonder how far we would get from the kiosk when I stopped repeatedly to identify some unknown flower on the wild side of the path. First up, was a plant right by the kiosk which looked a bit like lavender, but two separate nature apps told us this was some kind of Odontite. Also known as a Red False Bartsia, a genus within the broom-rape family. After finding this little gem, I had to stop to identify some Knapweed and two types of Aster. Both presented full clusters of flowers, which was different from the sparse specimens I had seen elsewhere. The ID app told us the taller of these two Asters was a Heath Aster, but I could not get a handle on this small beauty shown above. Let’s just agree that it was an Aster.

Finally, we set a steady pace through the rest of the field. The ground was a little uneven in spots but I managed. As we got closer to the woods, there were planks across some wet areas. Here the path became very narrow, as the tall asters, goldenrods and other vegetation leaned over the path. Once in the woods, the trail opened up but the first few yards was full of roots with some of the highest foot grabbers I had ever seen. These roots were intent on grabbing the unobservant hiker around the shins.  

As the roots settled down, we walked through a beautiful moss covered woodland area filled with pines and hemlocks. During our journey, we found evidence of long gone spring flowers, such as, Canada Mayflowers, Bunchberries, Goldthread and Lady Slippers.

As our hike continued, the terrain had a few ups and downs but nothing extreme. Soon, we found ourselves by the Sheepscot River. The White Loop continued to follow the river before making the turn back towards the wood. Here, we took the turn onto the Red Trail in order to reach the Turquois Trail. We passed an old fishing cabin and even older outhouse (no longer in use) along the way.

Once on the Turquois Loop, we followed the river for quite some time. Since the views were so beautiful here, we decided that this would be a good spot to enjoy some refreshment. As I gazed through the trees towards the water a movement caught my attention. I soon realized that there was a Kingfisher sitting on a nearby branch. He graciously waited long enough for me to change my lens and take a few pictures before flying off. It was such a treat when a creature cooperated like that!

Done with our snack, we continued along the Turquois Loop. As the trail turned away from the river, we discovered a side trail and decided to investigate. I heard running water but could not see anything, so we continued uphill on this path and walked a little bit past the preserve boundary. There we found the Bass Falls that had been mentioned in the brochure. Not far from the falls, was the remnants of an old beaver dam mentioned as well. After admiring the view for a bit, we returned back towards the Turquoise Loop. From there we finished up the White Loop and made our way back through the field and home. It had been a beautiful morning.

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Finding Trolls

My hiking buddy had been talking for a while about visiting the trolls at the Botanical Gardens. I thought it might be a fun day so I agreed to accompany her. She didn’t particularly like crowded places and had mentioned about taking a day off mid-week for our visit, so I was a bit surprised when she decided we would go on the holiday Monday in October. A fall foliage weekend with lots of visitors in the state, that wasn’t going to be crowded much!

Admission to the Botanical Garden required tickets purchased in advance and for specific times. We had tickets for 11:30 and by the time we arrived, we had to park in the furthest parking area from the entrance. It wasn’t the walking to the entrance that bothered me, it was the number of people already there. I hoped we would not have too much difficulty viewing the trolls.

The gardens had expanded a great deal since the last time I visited, around 2015 or so. It seemed to have doubled in size. In addition to the increase in parking areas, the next change I noticed was the new, larger visitor center about .2 of mile in front of the old one. The entire garden had been pushed forward from its previous footprint.  After walking through the visitor center, we had to cross a long bridge to reach the original visitor center which was now a café and market place. While my buddy stopped in the market for a minute, I got lost in studying a splash of color not far from where we stood.

Once she rejoined me, we went to find the first of five trolls. This “Guardian of the Seeds” exhibit was scattered throughout the garden to reconnect people with the outdoors while teaching us about the various parts of a tree. It was designed as a treasure hunt with clues near each troll. Ultimately, the visitor had to solve the final anagram to locate the “seeds”.  We were not very serious about solving the puzzle, but were more interested in enjoying the woods while locating each troll.

From the location of the first guardian, we made our way towards the Back River, locating two more large giants along the way. We continued along the Shoreland Trail, passing an area known as the Fairy House Village. It was a place that encouraged young visitors to build their own fairy houses. It was quite the metropolis when we passed. Further along this trail, we found a large boulder by the river. It was the perfect seat to enjoy a bit of lunch while enjoying the views of the water.

After lunch, we made our way towards the Rhododendron Garden in search of the last two trolls. There was only a narrow path around the last one, and I was concerned about how people would behave as they tried to get pictures of their family with these woodland creatures. I was pleasantly surprised, for at each stop during our entire visit people took turns getting photographs. At this particular location, everyone just formed a line and waited patiently until it was their turn. A couple of young boys attempted to run up to the troll, but they were stopped by their mother who told them to get in line.

We continued through the Rhododendron Garden, stopping at a waterfall. It was another peaceful place to finish the rest of my lunch, while I rearranged the letters of the anagram to pass the time. We thought we might know where the answer was, and walked over towards that portion of the gardens but I was proven wrong (and I could not see any other way to arrange the letters).

It was an uphill climb back towards the visitor center, so we found a spot to rest before completing the journey. While I was sitting on a stone step, I noticed an interesting leaf shape nearby. On closer examination, I realized it was a leaf but only the veins remained, a sign that everything in nature has a certain beauty about it.

My attention caused others to stop and admire this leaf, so I guess I made my own contribution in getting people to pause and find the beautiful. As we prepared to leave, a couple gave me the final answer, but I leave it to you to make the journey.

Library Park

The forecast for the second Monday in March claimed that it would be mostly sunny on that particular day, so I decided to venture out for a solo exploration. Other than my walk along the Breakwater which attracted a fair number of walkers, I had not gone on a solitude walk in a new preserve in quite some time. Knowing I would be my myself in uncharted territory, I looked for something relatively short and flat. I settled on Library Park in South Bristol.

By the time I arrived at the library parking area, the day had turned mostly clouded (so much for the weather forecast). The library was closed on Mondays and the parking area was completely empty. I parked near a small white trail marker, deciding to follow the path wherever it might lead. Pretty soon, it was clear that this little spur was leading towards the road and a nearby school. Clearly, this was not the right way towards the Library Park loop. Before turning around, I did stop to study an interesting wood structure on the opposite side of a still frozen pond. I was not sure what the purpose of this structure was but I did notice that it had an electric meter on one side.

Back at the parking area, I walked along the pavement until I found a trail map attached to a tree. At last, I had found the actual path! Just before I entered the woods, I paused to study some Witch Hazel buds (at least given my lack of tree identification skills, that is what I assumed they were).

The trail was clearly marked, so I did not need to worry about testing my navigation experience. It wasn’t long before the path made a pretty steep descent downhill. The ground had thawed a bit with evidence of soft mud in a few spots, making it necessary to side step these areas so I would not find myself sliding down the hill. I wished I knew this before-hand since this was a bit steeper than I was comfortable with during a solo adventure, but since the trail was only a mile in length I also felt guilty about asking someone to accompany me on such a short hike.

At the bottom of the hill, I had some wonderful views of the water. There was a small island across from where I stood and a float containing some lobster traps between the two stretches of land. I admired the water views for a bit before tuning to make the steep ascent back towards the library.

This time of year, most of the color was from the conifers that seemed to make up most of the park. There also seemed to be an abundance of moss covering the rocks and downed trees. It certainly gave the area a fairyland appearance. I made my way up the hill, skirting a few frozen puddles, before emerging at the far end of the library. Here the explorer had a choice of ending the adventure or making a right on to the connecting trail towards the Tracy Shore Preserve. I decided this had been enough of a solo venture for the day and headed back towards Damariscotta for lunch.

Zak Preserve

By the end of February we were beginning to experience the fluctuations of late winter, with temperatures ranging anywhere from mid-twenties to near fifty. This was something we did not typically see until late March but reports had been indicating that we had just seen the warmest January temperatures on record and the previous year had been warm as well. Still, given that there was still some snow on the ground, we wanted to get out and enjoy what was left of winter while we could. Not knowing what to expect, we threw both our snowshoes and micro-spikes in the car and headed for Zak Preserve in Boothbay.

Zak Preserve was not only part of the Boothbay Region Land Trust, but was also the southern end of the River-Link Trail system maintained by the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust. One could hike over 7 miles on the River-Link system from Zak Preserve to Dodge Point Preserve at the northern end of the trail, passing through the Charles and Constance Schmid Preserve somewhere in the middle. For those hardy souls for whom 7 miles is not near enough, additional mileage could be added by exploring the trails within each of those preserves. We decided to do our exploration in sections. We had already hiked a large portion of the Schmid Preserve just a few months before and I had done the Dodge Point Preserve a few times over the last few years. Today, we would explore Zak Preserve.

The first part of the trail crossed through a meadow. Arriving at the preserve, we surveyed the barren spots across the field and opted for the spikes. This would prove to be a good choice, since parts of the trail were completely devoid of snow but changed to ice as we went deeper into the woods. Although the trail map indicated that one section of the yellow trail loop headed off to our left, following the fence separating this expanse of land from the parking area, we saw no markers or signs indicating where we needed to go. The kiosk, was at the beginning of the white trail loop. Here we discovered we could either start the loop following Wildcat Creek or stay in the field near the tree line. We opted to follow the occasional Boothbay Land Trust posts near the tree line, continue on the white trail as it followed the creek, then follow the yellow loop where it came in at the top of the white trail.

We did have some great views of Wildcat Creek as we walked along the White Trail. The path itself was not at all difficult as far as rocks, roots or inclines were concerned and it was well marked. When we reached a cute little footbridge that crossed over a wet section, I knelt down to get a picture, then fell on my butt as I attempted to stand up. I believe this was the first and only mishap of our adventure. It was probably hilarious watching me attempt to get up, since I tend to be a bit like a turtle trying to right itself when it is on its back, but once I righted myself we continued on our journey.

When we reached the intersection of the white and yellow loops, we headed on to the yellow trail which took us deeper into the woods. This portion of the yellow trail was also well marked. The path had much more snow cover here and we were thankful for our spikes. We enjoyed the views of the trail lined with conifers as we walked along. After about 1.5 hours we arrived back at the field. Again, there were no clear indication as to which way we should head through the field. We followed the tree line back towards the creek and then retraced our steps back to the parking area. Just before entering the parking area, I noticed that the fence was covered with British Soldier Lichen. I admired the small splash of color that finished our hike before heading off for lunch.

 

Charles and Constance Schmid Preserve

After a few weeks of stormy weather, the first weekend in November dawned without a cloud in the sky. We definitely needed to get outside and explore, but where? Studying my various nature books of the area, I found a trail system on the Boothbay peninsula that linked several preserves from Boothbay to Newcastle. Those with a more adventurous spirit could hike the entire 7+ miles or those who were less ambitious could explore an individual preserve. We had visited Dodge Point at one end of this trail system several times. Zak Preserve at the other end was on my list, but for some reason I decided to save this park for another day. Then I discovered the Schmid Preserve with over 5 miles of trails. It helped that the book I was using gave a detailed description for creating a loop among the various trails. Perfect! We had our adventure for the day.

There were at least two entry points for the Charles and Constance Schmid Preserve. For this trip we chose the parking area on Middle Road. From here, the trail descended into the woods. Although the ground was covered in Oak leaves,  either side of the path was lined with a variety of conifers. Aside from the angle of descent, there was nothing really difficult about this section of the lane.

Soon we reached an intersection with the Moose Trail and the Hilltop Trail. What was really nice about the markers within the preserve, is that we found a wooden post marking each intersection. This certainly made it easier to determine where we were. At this point if someone was pressed for time, they could have made a short loop by taking the Moose Trail and looping back on the Hilltop Trail. Since we were in for a longer journey, we followed the description in my guide book and veered right onto the Moose Trail, following the yellow blazes.

After the rain from the previous week, this trail was pretty wet. Some of the areas we worked around were obviously from the rain but there were some areas that seemed to be existing brooks with no bog bridges. Fortunately, they weren’t wide and we were able to step from stone to stone across the water. We did comment that if it was this wet at this time of year, the trail must be impassable during Spring (or Mud Season) when the ground was already saturated with snow melt mixed with the Spring rains.

Our next adventure was when we reached the stream. According to my guide book, we needed to cross the “new” bridge and then take the steep ascent up to the Ridge Trail. Unfortunately, that “new” bridge had some pretty significant holes in the planks. A longer piece of wood had been placed along the length of the bridge to provide a way of getting over the holes, still, it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. Guess that’s what happens when you are using a book with the most recent edition being 2011. The stream was very pretty though, and we spent some time meditating on the rushing water.

Our guidebook was not kidding when it described the steep ascent towards the Ridge Trail. It took several stops before we reached that intersection! We took the right onto the Ridge Trail (marked with blue blazes) which had a different characteristic than the start of our adventure. Here, we crossed at least 6 stone walls. After taking another right towards the Dance Hall Trail (blazed orange) the forest opened up, letting more light onto the landscape. We soon made a left onto an old grassy road. We followed this to the next left that would take us back towards the parking area. Just before we entered the forest once more, I found one lonely clump of flowers still in bloom on this first week of November. Not sure, but I believe it was some kind of chamomile.