October 20, 2013

John Christie: Bristol on any bucket list

Beautiful Muscongus Bay is among attractions worth the walk.

The good news, and the bad news, is that none of us will live long enough to treat ourselves to all of Maine’s outdoor treasures. But some of us, and I hope you can count yourself among that group of adventurers, are sure going to keep trying.

click image to enlarge

Beautiful Muscongus Bay beckons hikers any time of the year, but an autumn walk can be especially uplifting.

John Christie photo

One reason it’s such a challenge to keep up with, and keep track of, all of the state’s summer delights is that new ones are popping up every year.

For example, just four years ago the Pemaquid Watershed Association accepted the formal transfer from the Nature Conservancy of the 120-acre La Verna Preserve in the village of Chamberlain in Bristol.

The Conservancy acquired the property in three parcels from 1963 through 1973. In addition, Dr. Elizabeth Hoyt and her sister, Anna Mavor, donated a 30-acre parcel and their family trust donated an additional 55 acres. To complete the reserve, the Conservancy purchased the final 34-acre parcel on the southwest end of the preserve on beautiful Muscongus Bay.

My first visit, and hike, was just last week as the fall colors were reaching their peak and many of the trails were a carpet of gold oak leaves. I’d passed the well-marked parking area on the west side of Route 32 – just 3.5 miles south of the Round Pond post office and three miles north of New Harbor – on several of my Pemaquid kayaking expeditions and had made a mental note to stop some time in the fall to explore the nearly four miles of trails and 3,600 feet of rocky shoreline.

I thought a few hours of easy hiking on the coastal plain would be a good precursor to my annual assault of Bigelow on Columbus Day, and the crisp autumn day I chose couldn’t have been better.

After crossing Route 32 from the parking lot, it’s an easy .6 miles down a trail through private property before you actually enter the preserve. Hikers are asked to respect the neighboring owners and to keep dogs on a leash.

Once on the Main Trail within the preserve’s boundaries, it’s another .6 miles down to the bay where the crashing surf provides background rhythm to the thrum of lobster boats circling and pulling traps within a few feet of the shore.

I opted to then head south on the Tibbitt’s Trail for a .7-mile loop along the shore before rejoining the main trail for about a 1-mile hike back to the parking lot. Beckoning in the northerly sector of the preserve was the .8-mile Ellis Trail loop, but I thought I’d save that for a spring visit to which I’m already looking forward.

The preserve offers within its 120 acres a taste of several natural environments, as the northern section is thickly wooded with red oak, white birch, red and white spruce, and white pine as the dominant species.

The understory features striped maple, sheep laurel, star flower and a variety of ferns and lush mosses.

In contrast, the southern section has the feel of the boreal forest you find farther down the coast to the east, and several sections reawakened memories of the Bold Coast and Fundy National Park. Sixty- to 100-year-old white and red spruce dominate, and ground cover is sparse as little sunlight finds its way to the forest floor.

The middle section of the preserve reflects the area’s history, as stone walls and piles and old cellar holes bear witness to the hard work of generations past who cleared the trees and tilled the rocky soil.

Now long abandoned, the land is hospitable to high bush blueberries, red raspberries, several varieties of ferns and huckleberries.

The rocky shoreline is a photographer’s paradise, and I’m glad I packed along a lunch to enjoy as I sat and drank in the sounds and sights unique to the rock-bound coast of Maine.

The preserve is open during daylight hours for hiking, skiing and other low-impact uses.

Visitors are reminded to carry out what they bring in, and they are asked for a modest contribution at the kiosk in the parking area.

There’s a log in which visitors are asked to register, and to provide their comments about the preserve. It was evident on my recent visit that lots of people have been enjoying what the preserve has to offer, and the special appreciation they have for this unique coastal treasure.

Typical of the comments I noted on a single page in the log book were: “Lovely”...Guilford, VT:, “Beautiful”...Rochester, NY; “BETTER than beautiful!”...Napa, CA; and “Sweet Escape”...Honesdale, PA.

And it’s right here on our own doorstep.

John Christie is an author and year-round Maine explorer. He and his son, Josh, write in Outdoors about places to enjoy the beauty that only Maine has to offer. He can be contacted at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

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