Mother Nature has been pretty generous with snow along the Maine coast this winter, so on a recent Sunday my wife and I decided to go snowshoeing near the ocean, an all-too-rare treat. Our destination was Spirit Pond Preserve, a state-owned parcel of conservation land managed as an undeveloped part of Popham Beach State Park, near the southern end of the Phippsburg Peninsula.
A scenic three-mile loop trail — built by volunteers from the Phippsburg Land Trust — winds through the woods bordering Spirit Pond and the salt marshes of the Morse River drainage.
The trailhead is located on Route 209 in Phippsburg, 5.3 miles south of the Town Hall and 0.3 miles west of the junction with Parker Head Road. Parking in winter is alongside 209.
Just past the Spirit Pond Preserve sign the trail splits. A blazed trail — the recommended route — bears left, while an unmarked woods road continues straight ahead. Here we strapped on the snowshoes, shouldered our daypacks and struck off down the unbroken trail.
A few yards into the woods is a register box with trail maps. Beyond, the trail meanders downhill to the shore of Spirit Pond. En route we crossed the first of many fine old stone walls, and passed some ancient hardwood and softwood trees.
From this point, the trail traces a southwesterly route along Spirit Pond, which is not a true pond but rather a tidal embayment, filled and emptied twice daily by the tidewater. We passed at least three spur trails to viewpoints over the water, and with the snowshoeing delightful and being in no particular hurry, we gave them all a look.
A first navigational note: The untracked trail, blazed as it is with dark blue paint, combined with the intense sunlight on this brilliant day made following the trail a bit of a cat-and-mouse game at various times. We took it in stride, however, and enjoyed the hint of a challenge.
Halfway through the journey we stopped in the lee of a juniper clump on a ledge overlooking the granite blocks of an old mill dam at the far end of the pond. A bald eagle soon took center stage, soaring lazily overhead as we munched sandwiches, fruit and nuts in the sun of our windless nook.
Ahead, the trail winds up and down a couple of wooded peninsulas jutting out into the open expanse of the Morse River salt marshes. We stood for a long while at the last outlook, drinking in a view that ranged from the forested hump of Morse Mountain to the ocean at Sewall Beach.
Eventually the blue blazes ended, and we had only to turn north on an unmarked woods road and make our way in a straightforward manner back to the road. Alas, the need for a second note on navigation.
Near the end of the blazed trail we passed a double blaze, indicating a major turn in the trail, but were then thrown for a loop by a succeeding single blaze. Now had we the obvious track of a summer trail beneath our feet this would not have been an issue, as we would have clearly seen the woods road, unmarked and overgrown as it was, bearing in the right direction. But this was winter and there were no such clues, which led us to thrash about for a good half-hour to no avail.
Admittedly stumped, we threw in the bandanna and backtracked to the last junction, and soon — yes, you guessed it — intersected what suspiciously looked like the much same unmarked, overgrown woods road from earlier.
A smidgen smarter than before, we followed it right out to the car just like that.
For more information on Spirit Pond and the myriad other preserves in Phippsburg, which all told have 31 miles of hiking, go to www.phippsburglandtrust.org or call 443-5993.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and freelance writer. Follow his outdoor adventures at: