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Gibson Preserve

During the first weekend in December, the temperatures were still fluctuating between a balmy 50 and more seasonable night-time lows in the 20’s. On one of those spring like moments, we decided to explore a section of the Gibson preserve. Since the two sections of the preserve were not connected, we opted to explore the larger area, leaving the 1 mile trail for another day. Our exploration for this outing would also give us the option of exploring a portion of the Ridge to River trail if we so decided since the two trails were directly across from each other.

First, we had to get to the trail-head. The directions on the Georges River Land Trust site indicated that after turning on to Ripley we should park off the road, walk across a bridge and veer right at the fork. Unfortunately, we misinterpreted the road as Riley and had to turn around when we reached the second section of the preserve. Once we corrected our mistake, we made our way to the dirt road that would lead to the two trail-heads. Well, it may have been dirt lane at one time. We stood for a moment, gazing down a long river before making our way alongside this large expanse of water. The thought crossed my mind that I would sure hate to see what this preserve looked like during the wet season, not only because of the water but I also thought about the number of black flies and mosquitoes that must inhabit this area!

Examining our map, we decided that we would be able to create a nice loop by combining the Orange, Yellow and Blue trails. Once on the orange trail, we found the ground was still spongy beneath our feet. In fact, most of Gibson consisted of a lush ground cover of a variety of mosses. Not far into our walk, we found a downed tree covered in Beard Lichen. The long whitish-green hairy growth was lovely to behold. Directly across from this artwork, I found another fine specimen of the orange jelly fungus I had first seen during our exploration of the Mount Pleasant preserve.

Not long after our discoveries, the orange trail began to follow the St. George River. From where we stood, I assumed that we were looking at the second section of Gibson preserve just across the river. For a number of years now, there has been statements on the land trust web site that they have been trying to find ways to connect the two sections but nothing has ever happened. Judging from the width of the river I am not sure that they could easily connect the two parts. For now, we continued towards the orange loop.

Soon, we arrived at the beginning of the orange loop. There was a lot of blow down and damaged trees in this area and we decided to deal with the tree blocking one portion of the loop at the end of our adventure. For now, we continued straight, stopping to admire the artistic swirls within another freshly downed tree.

At the first intersection with the yellow trail, we opted to continue on the orange trail but did side-step onto this trail to study a vernal pond not that far in. Making our way around the orange loop, we noticed that this section of the preserve consisted of cedar, white pine and spruce trees. There were quite a few elongated pine cones on the ground which we assumed to be from the white pines.

Turning on to the yellow trail, we continued to notice the various conifers above and the mosses below. At some point we crossed a bridge and I noticed from my map that we completely missed the blue trail. We turned back towards the bridge and looked across the water where we could see blue blazes deeper in the woods but there had been no sign of a turnoff towards that trail either at the bridge crossing or further up the trail. Since we had already passed both places where the trail intersected the yellow, we decided to abandon the exploration of the blue trail and headed back towards the entrance. We made our way around the downed tree where the yellow trail met the orange, managed to avoid falling into the river that made up the road leading back to our car and heading home for lunch. It had been a beautiful hike.

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Ridge to River Trail

During the second week of October, my friend and I decided to hike the Ridge to River trail in Searsmont. My goal for the day was to at least hike to the top of the ridge to take in the autumn views and possibly on towards the river, a distance of about 1.5 miles. If conditions were right, we could even enjoy lunch by the river.

After parking at the lot on Ghent Road, we made our way across the road and on to the trail. There was a lot of erosion on this portion of the path and I found the footing a bit treacherous. In fact, I had visions of repeating an episode that occurred a few years ago when I was hiking with my daughter at Payson Park. On that day, we were hiking along a ridge above a river when I lost my footing and had to make the decision to slide down the embankment or twist the other way. I leaned away from the ridge and landed on my shoulder, which I subsequently could not move by the time we returned home. On this trip, I made it safely beyond the narrow path and we continued on our way.

Our route took us through the woods for a short distance before opening out on to a field. We followed the trail through the middle of the field just as the wind came up, lifting milkweed seeds into the air. Hundreds of seeds swirled around us and we laughed at the thought of being in a magic place filled with fairy dust. It was truly one of those events where a picture cannot capture the magic or emotions that one experiences at the time. Another lesson we learned that day was to turn around and look at the landscape behind you. We remembered to turn around just before crossing Route 131 and were rewarded with a beautiful autumn landscape.

Once we crossed the road, we walked through a short section of woods before entering another field. We were a bit concerned about losing the blue blazes but there was a path along the side of the field, so we continued on. It wasn’t until we reached the next road crossing at Appleton Ridge Road that we realized we had lost the trail. We studied the map for a bit before walking up the road a ways until we found the blue blazes running alongside another field. We strolled along this path until the blue blazes directed us back into the woods.

It was a good thing we kept some distance from each other, because at one point my friend stopped short. A small snake was sunning itself right in the middle of the path, and it had no intention of moving out of anybody’s way. That snake stayed there while we took a number of photos. It still refused to move when we stomped on the ground nearby. Finally, after I kicked some leaves towards it, the snake moved slightly off the path so we could walk around it and continue on our way.

There were some uphill and downhill moments in this section, and each time things seemed to be getting steep we thought about turning around. Neither one of us wanted to make that decision since we really wanted to make it to the river but we were also afraid that the river might be beyond our reach. Ultimately, we would tell each other that we would travel on just a little bit further. Finally, my friend suggested we go a little further up the ridge towards a definite tree line, and there below us we found our body of water. We walked along the stream until we found a log where we could sit and enjoy our lunch.

After lunch, we made our way back towards Ghent Road. Along the way, we discovered where we had lost the trail. It was funny in a way, because I had commented about a red mark on a tree to our left. That tree had been directly across from the blue marked trail to our right. To be fair, the blue marker was far enough into the woods from the wider trail that it was easily missed. From this point, we quickly reached Ghent Road and the end of another wonderful hike.

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.

Appleton Preserve

Mid-November appletonnov16-1we took a late morning drive to the Appleton Preserve. The gusty winds from the day before had swept 80% of the leaves from the trees, the landscape was taking on that end of autumn look and the sun was shining. What a perfect day to explore some place new!

During the winter, we had snowshoed along the Canal Path, a companion preserve located just across the street from the Appleton Preserve. From the parking field, just to the left of the main trail was a short path leading down to the river. The Georges River seems to be aappletonnov16-2 favorite fishing spot and we found many side lanes heading towards the water as we walked along the main corridor.

The first part of the trail was bordered by the remains of golden rods, Queen Anne’s Lace and open Milkweed pods. One pod looked like it was still trying to spit out its fluffy seeds but they clearly were not ready to let go. Later in our journey I would spot numerous fluff balls that I would realize were not milkweed pods but some kind of tree or vine that I could not identify.

The trail appletonnov16-3followed the river for a bit before turning away from the water and leading us through a meadow. Here we had a choice, did we want to follow the wider path back to the road or continue to the interior of the preserve. We decided to walk through the meadow and complete the loop at the far end of trail before calling it a day.

The lane turned left at the far end of the meadow where we discovered we had to climb down a shallow, rocky embankment, cross a small stream and then climb up the other side. According to the brochure for the Appleton Preserve, this may have been the remains of a 19th century canal system. If the water was as shallow then as it was on this particular day, I’m not sure how useful appletonnov16-4that canal could have been, but it was an interesting discovery.

When we reached the loop portion of the trail, we opted to head left towards the river. This allowed us time to take in the views of the river and the fields beyond. There is something peaceful about water views and I find that these moments go a long way to healing the soul.

Continuing appletonnov16-5our journey around the loop, we found that there was still some surprises away from the river. Not only did we discover the ruins of an old chimney, but surrounding one side of this structure was a circular arrangement of stones. This was no accident but a planned placement of stones. It almost looked like it might have been an enclosed garden at one time, or could it have been a small hut from long ago. Nearby, I found small sprouts of red leaves closely resembling the leaf of a Japanese Maple but I was not sure of these were indeed some kind of maple. We finished our journey thankful for the hour spent in this quiet place.

Hatchet Mountain

With hatchetnov16-6the first weekend in November bringing cooler temperatures, we wanted to try hiking somewhere that was a little more challenging. After studying various land trust sites, I picked Hatchet Mountain in nearby Hope. Although the description in the brochure, rated this a “moderate steep” hike, it also was a mere ¾ of a mile to the lookout near the upper border of the preserve. Given the short distance of the trail I thought we could manage the difficulty rating, especially since the trail was a road that had been put in years ago when thehatchetnov16-3 original plans were to build houses on the mountain.

The parking area was located on a road with poor visibility in both directions, so we turned around before parking in order to be able to pull straight out when we were finished with our hike. Now we were ready! Once we reached the kiosk we joked about turning around, having successfully made the steep incline to that point. Joking aside, we continued upwards on this first section of trail lined with aspen, birch and beech trees.

Where the trail hatchetnov16-5switched back to the right, we paused to catch our breath and to admire the view. Hobbs Pond was just below us and beyond that we could see Ragged Mountain. I spent a few minutes studying a few interesting plants, one had small dried out white flowers on its branches while the other looked like a puff ball from the aster family.

Ready to move on, we continued the steep ascent to the top. This section of trail was made a hatchetnov16-4little more difficult by the large rocks laid down when the road was put in. With the sharp switchbacks and the steep incline, I could not imagine how anyone could drive a car up this road and wondered if that was the reason why the project was abandoned and the land turned over for preservation.

There was a rock ledge on one side of the trail and I paused a moment to verify what I had seen. Looking closely at the water dripping from the rock I discovered the first harbinger of winter; icicles hanging from the ledge. How quickly the nexthatchetnov16-1 season had come upon us! It couldn’t be time for winter already, but alas further up the trail, we had to carefully step over some more ice formations in the path.

We finally arrived at an open space that marked the end of the preserve. Further up, at the top of the mountain, were several radio towers and a service road leading back to the bottom of the hill. But here, on the land trust property, the view was amazing! The field before us was still filled with the reds and golds of autumn. Beyond the field, tohatchetnov16-2 our right we could see both Ragged and Bald Mountains with Beech Hill tucked between them. I could just make out the hut on top of Beech Hill. Straight ahead, Megunticook Lake was visible below us with the Camden Hills just behind it. Turning to our left, we could make out the islands in the bay. We stood for some time admiring the view before heading back down the mountain. Our hike had lasted about an hour and had been a bit strenuous but we had found a treasure that we would certainly visit again.