Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By CAREY KISH
Heading south on Route 209 through Phippsburg you'd hardly know the wealth of conservation lands that are all but hidden around you. Certainly the DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer provides only a hint as you make your way down the scenic road toward the ocean.
Get your hands on a copy of "Walking Phippsburg," published by the Phippsburg Land Trust, however, and the bounty becomes evident. Turn to the full-page map centerfold and you'll see the myriad protected lands, both public and private. It's an impressive array for sure, comprising several thousand acres.
The Phippsburg Land Trust owns 450 acres of land outright and holds conservation easements on another 350 acres on 18 separate properties. Other protected lands include popular destinations like Popham Beach State Park and Morse Mountain Conservation Area, as well the lesser-known Basin Preserve and Spirit Pond.
"We wanted to provide land for people to use and walk on," said Bob Cummings, founder of the trust and current board member and stewardship chair. "Our mission is to get people away from their TVs and into the woods."
The original goal was to have a place for people to walk that was within two miles of their home, Cummings told me. Looking at Phippsburg's trail map it appears that folks there have been pretty successful, with preserves large and small spanning the length of this beautiful peninsula and a bonanza of hiking opportunities totaling 31 miles.
Somewhere in my travels I'd picked up a brochure on the trust's Center Pond Preserve, a 235-acre parcel sporting five trails and some 10 miles of hiking. And that's where I headed recently, day pack and me, looking for a good introduction to the area's trails.
Center Pond Preserve is easy to find. Travel south from Bath on Route 209 for roughly four miles. Across from Bisson's Center Store take a left on Parker Head Road. It's a half-mile to the trailhead, located on the right just after crossing a narrow bridge.
"It's our first, largest and most popular preserve," Cummings said. "There's a real sense of wildness there, with two granite ridges and ravines, vernal pools and a beaver pond tucked in-between."
The central feature, of course, is Center Pond, and the Perimeter Trail takes you along its shore for a good distance beneath a canopy of maples, oaks and pines. Go quietly and you're likely to see herons and ducks, and maybe even a deer drinking at water's edge.
Beyond the pond, the path leads through a grove of cool hemlocks, then easily up to a long, low ridge with fabulous walking. A plethora of blueberry bushes foretold a bountiful summer crop of the delicious fruits, which should be ready for picking and eating right about now.
Passing by the beaver pond the trail completes the pleasant loop. A series of old roads criss-cross the property and offer many more miles of exploration, with stone walls, old fences and ancient foundations as marked evidence of the land's rich history.
If Center Pond whets your hiking appetite, you're in luck according to Cummings, who strongly encourages people to visit and use the other preserves.
Sprague Pond abuts The Nature Conservancy's Basin Preserve and offer miles of great hiking. There's a maze of trails in the Ridgewell Preserve and the adjoining Phippsburg Town Forest. And the Bijhouwer Forest is home to Maine's largest stand of mountain laurel, as well as a waterfall and a huge trailside boulder.
A fun way to enjoy all that the Phippsburg Land Trust has to offer is by going on a guided walk, which are "free, leisurely and educational." A number of guided walks remain on this season's calendar, and include looking for minerals on Fuller Mountain, mushroom identification, a tour of the "Big Rock" at Bijhouwer Forest, and watching for hawks along the Morse River.
Two special events of note are on the horizon. On July 30 the trust is sponsoring a performance of the acclaimed "A Sense of Wonder," a play based on the words of Rachel Carson and starring Kaiulani Lee. And on Aug. 19 the trust will hold its annual meeting at Sebasco.
Like most conservation groups the Phippsburg Land Trust relies on the generous support of its members, so do consider joining. It's $20 annually for an individual and $30 for a family. Volunteers are also welcome for a variety of assistance, from trail work and helping with mailings to monitoring for invasive plants and leading interpretive walks.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a freelance writer and avid hiker. Send comments and hike suggestions to: