March 14, 2010

Hiking: Bowdoin's coastal studies center proves a delight


The Bowdoin College Coastal Studies Center is tucked away on a wooded peninsula between Harpswell Sound and Long Cove on Orr's Island. The center, which covers 118 acres, is open to the public and offers close to 4 miles of hiking on seven trails.

click image to enlarge

Fran Leyman of Bowdoin hikes on Dipper Cove Path, which is part of a trail at the Bowdoin College Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island.

Carey Kish photo

Protecting 21/2 miles of spectacular oceanfront, the center is home to a variety of Bowdoin research programs, including marine science, biology, geology, anthropology, archaeology and several others.

"The goal is to inspire faculty and student research and creative projects," said Phil Camill, Rusack Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology and the center's program director. "It's a neat mix of disciplines from all parts of the campus."

On site is a marine laboratory with running seawater, a terrestrial laboratory, an art studio, a pier and ocean buoy, and a farmhouse for meetings, classes and quiet study.

"The center is a unique opportunity for Bowdoin to showcase many of the academic opportunities that we offer," Camill said. "It helps open students' eyes to see firsthand how the coastal environment shapes the human experience."

Apart from the academic mission, the center is "a place to walk and reflect, to appreciate nature and biodiversity." Hikers will find a wealth of interesting terrain and lovely scenery for many hours of pleasant exploration.

To reach the trail head, follow Route 24 south from Route 1 in Brunswick for 8 miles. Cross the bridge onto Orr's Island and drive another 2 miles. Take a right on Bayview Road and follow it for a mile to a small parking area.

Pick up a trail guide at the information kiosk; it's an essential companion. The guide provides a color map of the trails and lists the 18 interpretive markers found along the way, each describing the diverse natural environments and rich history of the land here.

If you have a couple of hours, you can easily walk a loop that covers a portion of all seven trails and take in the best of the natural features of the center.

Cross the gravel road and start down the Spruce-Fir Forest Trail. At Dipper Cove, head north on Dipper Cove Path. Wyer Island is just offshore (accessible at low tide) as you follow the shoreline before turning uphill to the barn and farmhouse.

The Pine Needle Path leads gently downhill back to the water. From there, follow the Brewer Cove Trail around the cove and along Harpswell Sound to Dog's Head. Enjoy scenes of Harpswell Neck before making the short traverse across the point to Long Cove.

The bridge that connects Orr's Island with Great Island soon comes into view. Turn south along the cove to meet the Stone Wall Walk. Take this path past stone walls along the edge of several fields. Enter the woods again, and all too soon reach the end of the trail and your car.

Some interesting facts from the interpretive trail guide to note as you walk:

Spruce fir is the most common forest cover type in Maine (No. 1).

Legend has it that Lewis Hanson buried his two white horses on Wyer Island near the turn of the 20th century (No. 3).

Three families -- the Hansons, Winnewissers and the Thalheimers -- have occupied the farmhouse (No. 4).

A natural spring above Brewer Cove supplied fresh water to residents, vacationers and passing ships for many years (No. 12).

The Orr's Island Bridge was paid for by island residents and constructed between 1833 and 1845 (No. 14).

The stone walls of unwanted fieldstones served as both property boundaries and fences (No. 16).

For more information on the Coastal Studies Center, go to, or call 833-8018.

Nearby Giant's Stairs -- an oceanside rock formation that resembles a flight of stairs -- makes for a fun side trip. To get there, travel 4 miles farther south on Route 24 to Bailey Island, then take a left on Ocean Street and park at the end of the road. The Giant's Stairs Trail leads a short distance to the big steps and pounding surf. The clifftop trail was rehabilitated in 2008, and in 2009 the project received an Education and Communication Award from the Recreational Trails Program.


Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and suggestions to:


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