Friday, December 6, 2013
Three miles of wide, well-used trails crisscross the park-like forests of Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park, a 250-acre tract on the Salmon Falls River in South Berwick, offering hikers hours of exploration and a window into the natural and human history of the area.
The park was bequeathed to the state in 1949 by Elizabeth Vaughan, the daughter of Emily Tyson, a wealthy Bostonian who purchased the property in 1898. The two committed themselves to caring for the land, allowing the forest to prosper and grow back from what was once just old pasture and brush land.
They also worked to restore the nearby Hamilton House, built in 1785 by a merchant, Jonathan Hamilton, in ruins when the two took over.
Today, thanks to this mother and daughter, great stands of century-old white pines and hemlocks thrive alongside a mile of protected riverfront, the home to a bevy of bird and animal life, and all owned and managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. And the Hamilton House, standing proud on a bluff overlooking the Salmon Falls River, is a National Historic Landmark.
Start your walk through Vaughan Woods from the entrance road, at an information kiosk on the left just a few yards before the parking lot. Just ahead on the right, note the picnic tables, playground, toilet and grassy fields.
Saunter downhill on Shady Stroll, cross a bridge and quickly come to a four-way intersection. Go straight ahead on River Run and head for the river. You'll loop back later on Bridle Path, on the left.
At the first overlook, Hamilton House View, you'll see the stately house just across the inlet. Here also is the first of five benches.
On its way downstream, the main trail passes five side trails that connect with Bridle Path, the upper leg of the loop hike. Shorten your walk by taking Porcupine Path, Windy Walk, Nubble Knoll, Warren Way or Old Gate trails.
The trail also crosses a series of ravines on bridges and remains well above the river level most of the way. At several places, it's possible to scramble down the bank to get an unimpeded view, but if you wait until Cow Cove, the trail meanders to the water's edge. Signs of civilization are all but absent along this semi-wild stretch of river.
On the other side of the river is, of course, New Hampshire. The Salmon Falls River forms a natural state boundary from Great East Lake to the Piscataqua River. Named for the once abundant salmon, the river was an important transportation route for early settlers to harvest the plentiful timber, and powered the very first sawmill in America.
At Trail's End the path turns left, away from the river, and River Run becomes Bridle Path. This leads easily up to the old home site of James Warren, who settled on a 50-acre lot in the early 1600s.
The forest canopy along the ridgeline is more mixed, with oak and hickory trees among the softwoods, and crumbling stone walls delineate old property lines. Well-kept trail signs continue to mark the way, which ends at the original junction.
But before returning to the car, take the short spur over to the Hamilton House, and enjoy a walk around the grounds and perhaps a guided tour of the house.
Get a trail map, directions and more information on Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park at www.parksandlands.com.
More information on Hamilton House can be found at www.historicnewengland.org.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is writing a new book on classic Maine coast hikes from Kittery to Eastport. Send comments and suggestions to: MaineOutdoors@aol.com