February 23rd, 2021
Lesser Known Land Trusts in Maine Have Much to Offer
When I moved to Maine in 2017, it didn’t take me long to realize that this state has an abundance of natural wonders but, more than that, how much the public access to this natural majesty is uncanny. Clearly, more people have realized that since the pandemic shut out their usual activities. The outdoors this past year, proved to be more than just a breath of fresh air for folks who didn’t normally hit the trails. Last summer, Maine’s state parks were overcrowded, forcing some places to actually close to the public. Chances are though, if you live in Maine, a public forest or land trust hosts a trail system within a short drive from home.
“When many of the state parks closed last year, local trails and land trusts were overwhelmed,” said Brunswick Topsham Land Trust (BTLT) Executive Director Angela Twitchell. “There were new people who weren’t aware of their local trails, but, on the other hand, we weren’t prepared for it.” About half hour north of Portland, the Brunswick/Topsham area presents ample outdoor opportunities for convenient hikes and outdoor recreation. The BTLT is committed to preserving natural areas as well as providing public access. Overall, the BTLT hosts 25 miles of public trails within the towns of Brunswick, Topsham, and Bowdoin. Of all their 62 properties, not all have hiking opportunities since they also preserve wetlands and lease farmland.
Tarbox Preserve in Topsham has a lovely trail that loops through a dense forest with excellent views of the Cathance River. Twitchell joined me for a hike on this trail that eventually overlooked the river at high tide and said that this spot is a great place for kids to swim and play in the mud at low tide. Head of Tide Park in Topsham provides opportunities for light hiking, kayaking, and even picnicking along the Cathance River. Maquoit Bay and Woodward Point, both in Brunswick, provide excellent woodsy walks that lead to waterfront points where you can enjoy a dose of salty sea air with a snack or spot birds with your binoculars. Several wooded trails meander through the properties of the Brunswick Landing, the former Navy base.
The Kennebec Land Trust (KLT) hosts an impressive variety of hikes and outdoor experiences that consist of more than 70 properties within 21 communities in Kennebec County relatively near Augusta.
“We focus on the whole county, not by town, which is unique,” said Jean-Luc Theriault, KLT Stewardship Director. The KLT trails also experienced a large increase in usage last year due to the pandemic, prompting them to encourage the use of lesser-used, family-friendly properties, such as Gott Pasture Preserve, Rosmarin & Saunders Family Forest, and Curtis Homestead Conservation Area.
If you are looking to paddle to a trailhead, the region has an abundance of lakes, which provide opportunities for scenic hikes, swimming, and canoeing. Lake Cobbosseecontee has three island properties (Hodgdon, Horseshoe, and Perry Island Preserves). Androscoggin Lake has Norris Island and Perkins Woods Preserve has a rocky beach.
“All of our properties are unique and quaint in their own ways,” said Tyler Keniston, KLT Stewardship Manager. They also publish a hiking guide that is an excellent resource for outdoor enthusiasts.
Camping is allowed by reservation on a few KLT properties. Wakefield Wildlife Sanctuary in West Gardiner has two cabins for rent and Norris Island in Wayne has campsites and a rustic cabin. Summer reservations tend to book up quickly, so don’t hesitate to contact the KLT if you are interested. “We’re mostly in line with the state parks policies on camping and campfires,” said Theriault. “We don’t allow fires unless it is in a designated fire ring.” At the moment, BTLT is not offering camping; however, it is actively working on a plan to incorporate a few pilot campsites. “Camping is a great way for families to connect with nature in a different way than just hiking,” said Twitchell. “I am a strong advocate for testing it out.”
Every region in Maine has some kind of unique gem. In western Maine, Kingfield Community Forest offers a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking and paddling around Shiloh Pond in 215 acres of protected, public land. Portland Trails provides residents with a trail network with more than 70 miles for hiking. The Maine Land Trust Network (mltn.org) is an excellent resource to find your local land trust.
Be sure to follow proper trail etiquette. Don’t litter. Take out what you carry in. These land trusts work tirelessly to provide us with the opportunity. It’s our responsibility to respect it.
John Breerwood has been magazine writing for over 10 years and enjoying the outdoors since childhood. He currently resides in Topsham, Maine. He teaches English at Lewiston High School and just recently published his first novel, Sinking Dixie, last year.